Aldair, Across the Misty Sea

Aldair, Across the Misty Seas is a book I bought by mistake. The bookstore was dark, and for some reason “Barnett” looked like “Brackett” when I was pulling various DAW, Ace and Zebra books off the shelf for a flea market haul.

Aldair is a pulp-style post-apocalyptic furry sword & seafarer science fiction. It could be that I jumped in on what turned out to be the third volume of a four volume series, but what left me gobsmacked was the appearance that it was written from a ‘place of furness’.

Now, what the hell do I mean by that? When folks talk about writers writing from ‘a place of whiteness’, they generally mean that the writer and the characters in the story take for granted the fact that they’re white – they are the default, and other races and cultures are “the other”. Well, in Aldair, it seemed as though the fact that everyone was an anthro furry was taken for granted.

It took several pages before I figured that something was up. The locations and races were described in terms of faux antiquity, so that it read like a historical adventure – the seafaring Vikonen, the fallen empire of the Rhemians, the Stygiann, rattling off places like Gaullia and Niciea… They were shorthand for the familiar used in a way similar to Howard’s Hyborian world. So, when the narrator mentioned that someone from Gaullia would come up to the chest of a Vikonen warrior, I thought that maybe it was just a figure of speech.

Then the main character describes his Niciean buddy, Thareesh, and his Rhemian dame, Corycia, who is the daughter (or niece, I forget) of Titus Andromeda (so she’s a princess!). The Nicieans are greenskinned and scaly. Cool, Aldair’s got reptile friends! Then Aldair describes the first time he met Corycia, with beautiful auburn hair and a revealing green dress that accentuated her rows of breasts.  Wait.  Rows of breasts?! Throughout the book, characters are described in terms of having paws or claws, muzzles and snouts, but with the exception of the lizardmen who are pretty specifically lizardmen (as a non-furry other), it’s left very vague as to what kinds of petting-zoo people these folks actually are. I’m proud of myself for having correctly guessed that the Vikonen were bears, and by the end I figured out rounds about what most of the characters were, but the book never came out and said “Corycia was a faux-Roman cat-girl” or “Signar is an axe-wielding bearman sea captain”, because the narrator never saw fit to expound on those details. Again, this could be that I just jumped in on the 3rd book of a series, but it made for an interesting reading experience.

But was it good?

Yes, it was pretty damn awesome. And considering that I had no benefit of having read (or until an after-the-fact Google search even known that there were) previous books in the series, it STILL held up on its own, that says something. It was a mix of Baron Munchausen and Horatio Hornblower with a touch of Frank G. Slaughter’s or Anya Seyton’s historical adventure romance; crazy adventures on the high seas, swashbuckling adventure, sword-fights, and even some robots.

In a dark and distant future, Man created anthro-furries, then Man destroyed himself in various wars, leaving petting-zoo people to repeat the history of man, building their own kingdoms and empires that would flourish, war, and fall into ruin.

Aldair is on a quest to find the secrets of Man, hoping that somehow he will find something that will allow beast-kind to break the chains of history’s vicious cycle. In this book, his adventure takes his small fleet from a Vikonen village in what is probably Greenland to North America and eventually to the Amazon, with countless disasters and fights with scary monsters happening in the intervening time. It’s well written and strangely compelling. Again, the comparison that springs most to mind is Forester’s Hornblower stories (particularly those early-ish in HH’s career). Reading Aldair’s travails as captain of a small fleet of ships supported by his quirky and likable lieutenants was a joy.

The only downside is that my reading list just went up by three books as I now need to track down the first two for some context and the last book to find out if Aldair ever rescues his dame from the mutineer who absconded with her into space.

aldair

Aldair and Thareesh in a hot air balloon scouting for the ship that got separated from fleet in a storm. Even the covers of the first 3 books make it impossible to tell what kind of petting zoo person Aldair is! (he’s a piggy man)

aldair 2

Corycia, Rhalgorn, Aldair, and Signar, shown in all of their beastness on the 4th volume’s cover, which was done in a completely different style from the other three. I kind of imagined Aldair looking a bit more dapper…

Winter/Early Spring Short Review Round-up

For those of you not following along at Castalia House, I’ve reviewed several more short stories, including a lot of G-Men detective yarns. Plus, I reviewed Kroese’s Starship Grifters and Cynthia Ward’s The Adventure of the Incognita Countess. Check em out!

http://www.castaliahouse.com/retro-fandom-friday-rocketship-x-m/

http://www.castaliahouse.com/short-reviews-panama-peril-by-jean-francis-webb/

http://www.castaliahouse.com/short-reviews-pa-howdy-goes-fishing/

http://www.castaliahouse.com/short-reviews-thieves-blueprint-by-ronal-kayser-as-dale-clark/

http://www.castaliahouse.com/review-starship-grifters-by-robert-kroese/

http://www.castaliahouse.com/short-reviews-too-smart-to-die-by-george-antonio-wetter/

http://www.castaliahouse.com/short-review-you-cant-plant-murder-by-donald-bayne-hobart-beware-and-the-black-chamber/

http://www.castaliahouse.com/short-reviews-death-by-a-dusty-blade-by-frank-johnson/

http://www.castaliahouse.com/review-the-adventure-of-the-incognita-countess/

http://www.castaliahouse.com/short-reviews-the-moon-that-vanished-by-leigh-brackett/

http://www.castaliahouse.com/short-reviews-that-mess-last-year-by-john-d-macdonald-and-galactic-heritage-by-frank-belknap-long/

 

Flipping Switches

Sadly not a gaming post! I spent a lot of time flipping switches on stuff to make sure that Issue 5 goes out more or less on schedule.

Stuff is set up on Amazon for the eBook version, which you can pre-order here.

Stuff is set up on Smashwords for the other eBook versions, which you can pre-order here. (If you backed the Kickstarter and I sent you a promo code, this is where you have to go)

Stuff is set up on Lulu for Hardcovers and stuff is set up on Createspace for softcovers, and we’ll be getting those in the mail very soon!

Couple of Interviews! (Schuyler Hernstrom & Me)

I was going to write up a debriefing of my session running Raiders of the Second Moon, but Jeffro asked if I could post that at Castalia House, so it’ll be going up there Friday after next.

Instead, check out these two interviews! Yesterday, Scott Cole did an awesome interview with Schuyler Hernstom, which you can read here.

I also answered some questions about the design and art aspects of Cirsova at Nya Designs.

Guest Post – J. Comer: Review of Transit to Scorpio and The Suns of Scorpio by Kenneth Bulmer

The late Kenneth Bulmer (1921-2005) was a very prolific author, with more than 160 novels under his various names.  As ‘Alan Burt Akers’, he wrote fifty-two sword-and-planet novels in the Dray Prescot series between 1974 and 1997.  Later volumes (after #37!) were issued solely in German.  All are now available in omnibus volumes and as e-books. These include novels grouped into ‘cycles’ of three to five novels as well as stand-alone works. Reading the first two books reveals a competent grasp of adventure fiction.

After the Mariner and Viking spacecraft had made it clear that Mars was not Earthlike, writers of sword-and-planet fiction faced hard choices.  Michael Moorcock abandoned the field for straight-up fantasy; Mike Resnick decamped for science fiction and refused to reprint his Ganymede novels; Leigh Brackett took Eric John Stark to other stars.  Bulmer compromised: he created his own world, but made his stories old-school adventures.

The hero, Dray Prescot, is a sailor of the Napoleonic era transported to Kregen, a world of Antares (Alpha Scorpii) by the Savanti, a faction warring to rule that world.  He then has various adventures as he pursues Delia, a native princess.  Bulmer references Barsoom by having his hero trek to Antares (‘anti-Mars’).  Instead of arriving at random, as did John Carter, he is brought to Kregen and sent back to Earth.  His transits to Kregen at the behest of the Savanti and their rivals, the Star Lords, open and close many tales. Like John Carter, he is a swordsman and is also a sailor, with a modern grasp of race and gender issues.  He returns to Kregen, masters a nomadic horde, spurns a horny villainess, charms an elderly noblewoman, and seeks to find his beloved.  All this unfolds amidst a world of multiple societies and many intelligent species.  There are even sly digs at John Lange’s “Gor” novels.  Bulmer loses track of his hero sometimes and points to gaps in the ‘original’ tapes which Prescot is supposed to have used to record his adventures.  Birds serve as messengers of the warring factions, and scorpions crawl across the series, since Antares lies in the constellation Scorpio in the sky of Earth.

The second book brings Prescot to the Eye of the World, an inland sea full of rival nations.  Egyptian-ish Magdag seek to build colossi with armies of maltreated slaves, while the Sanurkazz command ships of war.  Prescot rows, battles, loses a dear friend, (and comforts his widow in a well-done scene) and commands ships in sea fights.  Will he find his beloved princess? Tune in next book!

These were pure fun, and, despite the fine craft of worldbuilding, not intended to be taken seriously.  If we can’t have adventures on Mars, with thoats and canals, then we can have them somewhere, and Kregen looks like fun!  I anticipate with pleasure the remaining volumes in this series. Recommended for all sword-and-planet fans.