Short Reviews – What Dead Men Tell, by Theodore Sturgeon

Castalia House’s back end is down right now, so I’m going ahead and posting this week’s Short Review here; we’ll get it mirrored up there once Markku gets us situated. What Dead Men Tell, by Theodore Sturgeon, appeared in the November 1949 issue of Astounding Science Fiction. It can be read here at Archive.org.

What Dead Men TellFor poisoning the well against the pulps, crusty old Ted the Sturgeon really needed to blow me away. And once we got past the first couple of pages of autistic rambling, Teddy only managed to tell a moderately interesting story.

Hulon, a film projectionist, recently wrote a piece for an obscure literary magazine outlining his eudaemonic philosophy: the future is uncertain and the now is so finitely small as to be inconsequential, so true security can only exist in the ossified events of the past—one’s past actions and accomplishments were all that one could truly hold onto, therefore happiness and security is derived primarily from what you are able to put into your past.

Well, this bit of thinkery draws the attention of a mysterious group who has transcended the laws of life and death! They appear to him as ghosts—movie stars who he’s certain are dead, but there they are in his theatre, plain as day! After approaching the third of these supposedly-dead movie stars, Hulon is informed that they are willing to test him to join their ranks. He will be placed in a chamber where he will meet death.

Hulon finds himself in a seemingly endless corridor, all alone except for strange balls of liquid that supply nutrient nourishment and dead bodies of old men that he happens upon at regular intervals.

I’ll go ahead and spoil the riddle, because that’s really all there is to the story: the endless corridor is some kind of umbilic torus, the body is the same body over and over again (it appears different because of different lighting [it cycles through the spectrum with each circuit Hulon completes] and because it gets banged up when illusion-creating gravity centered on Hulon changes and it drops to the floor/wall), and the ‘death he will meet’ is old age.

How did the gravity in the torus work to make it appear that the corridor was perfectly straight? Hulon admits he can’t answer that when he gives his answer to the riddle, and Ted doesn’t answer it either (‘oh, you’ll learn that and more in good time’ the cabal members tell Hulon).

What Dead Men Tell is a riddle-story; an atmospheric riddle-story with a worthwhile riddle (at least it wasn’t one of Asimov’s Black Widowers yarns), but I needed more. What were the stakes? The weirdo film projectionist is granted immortality and is assigned a girlfriend to instruct him in the ways of the new cabal he has been welcomed into.

Time is running out to support Cirsova Magazine! To keep us alive and kicking, be sure to subscribe today

Advertisements

Reminder, Just Over One Week Left!

We’re down the home stretch, but still need to raise about $1800 more to fund. 

To that end, we’ve decided to throw up our entire back-catalog for the interested.

$20 – Digital copies of all of volume 1

$100 – Softcover copies of all of volume 1

$350 – Hardcover copies of all of volume 1.

Volume 1 of Cirsova represents about half a million words of fiction, nearly 100 stories by dozens of authors.

Wild Stars & Cirsova Updates

I spent all day Saturday at The Comic Book Store, stuffing boxes.

WS 1

10 AM

WS 2

5 PM

Today, I’ll be shuttling these to the post office.

The Cirsova Kickstarter is doing mediocre–there’s no other word for it. We’ve got less than 2 weeks left, but we still need to raise $2.5k more to fund. I set a $5k goal because I wanted to actually see if we could get sustainable support after establishing a successful track record of delivering a quality product and delivering it on time. Given the success of other anthologies and magazines at this level (sometimes even vastly exceeding it), it’s not outside the realm of possible.

But hey, at least our first volume lasted longer than Skelos (given it’s $15 retail price and the fact that it crapped out after 3 issues, that $125 lifetime subscription is not looking like such a hot investment).

I don’t think it’s unpossible for us to reach our $5K goal, but please understand this is a Xanatos Gambit–

Funds: I have enough money to take submissions for 2019, and I spend days entering fulfillment for 200ish subscribers.

Doesn’t Fund: I just upload everything the way I normally do; people have to buy Cirsova from Amazon. Even with the attrition from people who backed the kickstarter but don’t end up buying on Amazon right away, people who go ahead and buy anyway will boost the issues’ Amazon profiles with sales they’d otherwise never see. I won’t take submissions for 2019, so will have some extra time for my own writing. I’ll possibly be able to bankroll a Volume 2 on the tentative success of Illustrated Stark.

So, will there be a volume 2? Will it be out in 2019? Really, that’s going to be up to our fans and readers. Stark is happening. That’s my main focus for 2019. I’ve also spoken with a couple of our other contributors about possibly putting out anthologies of their work. That would be an interesting opportunity for us to branch out as a publisher, moving beyond just a periodical fiction anthology.

Anyway, if you DO want volume 2 to pick up right away in 2019, here is where you can throw your money.

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1161542777/cirsova-vol-1-final-issues-9-and-10

Death Crypt of the Ultralich – Crypt (Level 3)

This is the final level of the no-prep dungeon for the mini-campaign I just finished running. The keyed notes below are what I had in front of me when I ran it.

Level 1: The Buried New Chapel
Level 2: The Original Abbey
Level 2 North: The North Library
Level 2 South: The Artificer’s Workshop

Dungeon Level 3 - Crypt

  1. Wall of Shrieking Bones. Attacks if close. Draws wandering monsters unless turned.
  2. 1d6 ghouls, 5k cp, 1k gp
  3. Same as 1
  4. 4 fonts (empty). If filled with water from the well, becomes holy water.
  5. 2d4 zombies w/maces. Each wears a gold necklace (100 gp)
  6. Several ossuaries. 4 turns searching will turn up skull with gold teeth (100 gp)
  7. True Tomb. Mummy: 19 HP, AC3 1d12+ disease. 2000 in jewelry. 2 Skeletons. 4 jars of gold (500). +1 sword inside the mummy.
  8. False Tomb. Corpse in Sarcophagus. Iron (gilded) jewelry, gorgerine, bracelets. 4 jars of oil. Coffer of 5000 copper (gilded) and 50 glass gems (50 cp total)
  9. 4 Zombies touching a glowing pink orb. Orb may be used to cast ESP. Orb links to Least Lich in 27. Worth 10k gp if removed.
  10. Body in hooded robes, pale face. 1d6 if punctured. b) zombie has ring worth 100 gp
  11. Shelves of bones
  12. 15 assorted skeleton parts. AC3 1 HP
  13. Shelves of bones; 4 silver torchiers (100 gp)
  14. Basin of water w/strange fish. Jump out to be a 3HD AC 6 skeleton fish monster 1d6 dmg; 20 pp in basin
  15. Shelves of bone
  16. 4 pillars that look like people writhing in agony, adorned with gems. HD3, AC4 1d6. 40 gems total, 30 gp each.
  17. 2d4 ghouls, will investigate if party is loud in 16. There is an ornate boat in this room. Stave-ceilinged: 10k gp [if it can be removed]. 4 canopic jars. Map to the tomb. +1 Short Spear.
  18. “You tread where no man dares. A powerful seal has been broken. Do not raise up what cannot be put down. He knows what you have done.” [hole under capstone on 2nd level leads here]
  19. Empty Room
  20. 10 inanimate skeletons. Skeleton Knight HD4 AC3 2-handed sword (1d10)
  21. Slanting floor with grates in wall, metal pressure plate on floor. Spear trap 1d6 Save vs. breath.
  22. 1 Thoul; 8 skeletons (may investigate 16)
  23. Basin. Body wearing plate armor, holding ax (both +1). Skeleton is bleached white. Basin is full of acid. 1d6 splash. Fall in, 3d6 damage + 1d6 per round until it is rinsed off.
  24. Two pedestals with silver gilded gazing balls (250 gp each). 1d4 electric damage, 1 charge each.
  25. 500 -1 spears, 1 +3 spear*
  26. 1280 skeletons wearing chain, standing in rank & file at attention. Inanimate unless attacked.**
  27. Throne room of the Least-Lich. E5 – 20 HP, AC 2 (Elfin Plate +1), 1d8+1 (+1 sword of control undead). Knows: Read Magic, Charm Person, Mirror Image, Phantasmal Force, Haste. Spellbook. All 1st level scrolls. Necromantic Standard. Goold Skull (500 gp), Endymion’s Plan-Book, Griffon Throne (2000 gp), 3 tapestries (350 gp each)
  28. Piles of bones. After 1 turn, whirlwind of bones, attacks as 6HD, 1d6. Protection from evil or turning both have effect.***
  29. 500 -1 swords, 1 +1 sword*
  30. 300 -1 short bows, 1 +1 bow*

 

* The -1 weapons aren’t cursed, just poor quality.

** The skeletons are the unnamed Least Lich’s “seed army”. He’s a lieutenant of Endymion the Ultralich, and if left alone after the seal has broken, he’ll eventually lead this army down into the valley and use his magic sword to amplify the curse and raise additional undead. Things dying on this dungeon level and returning as undead is part of the curse that the chapel/abbey was built to contain and not directly tied to the Least Lich himself.

***I handled this a bit differently in play. I came up with almost all dressings and secrets on the fly, so I had the handle to the secret door be a large key-crank hidden by one of the piles of bone. Also, after the initial whirlwind, touching the bones would activate the whirlwind again, and I had players roll dex to not touch bones.

Jack & Gary

“There is a truly great advantage offered to the Game Master when devising a
campaign set on the Dying Earth. It is not highly detailed. There is no strict timeline laid
down. All that has happened before is not “recorded”, nor is there an accurate gazetteer
of for the world. What magic operates? Nobody can say or guess, because in the long
eons of the Dying Earth’s history, likely every form possible was discovered, used, and
then forgotten…almost. That means that all that’s necessary is to have the game in hand,
the books that Jack Vance wrote about the world, to create a really compelling campaign
environment. Using the creative base of the author, the GM’s own imagination cannot
fail but to rise to the occasion.” – Gary Gygax, Jack Vance & the D&D Game 

I’ve been saying for ages now, all you need to run a game is a good short story and some stat blocks.

You’ll find some good stories that qualify in our upcoming issues… subscribe today!