Short Reviews – Finished, by L. Sprague De Camp

Finished, by L. Sprague De Camp, appeared in the November 1949 issue of Astounding Science Fiction. It can be read here at Archive.org.

L. Sprague de Camp offers up something of a planetary romance with Finished, where I can’t quite tell if he just bungled his premise or was poorly spoofing Sword & Planet and Campbell ran it because he thought it would make the folks over at Planet Stories look like rubes.

Finished

Why do I feel like the genre is being mocked?

The truth may be somewhere in between. Finished is a mess of weird names and affectations, such that entire paragraphs barely register as coherent ideas expressed in English. De Camp is a smart guy who enjoys being smart, but he’s also a fairly decent writer who has done some really good humorous SFF that, while funny, didn’t quite dip into twee. So despite being a mess, there’s a damn good story at its core that makes me wonder why he didn’t work to tell it just a little bit better.

A planet in contact with the Galactic FederationTM is being kept at arm’s-length by the advanced space-faring culture; they’re just too primitive and barbaric to be granted access to the technical and philosophical knowledge of Earth (Ertsu). The planet has a perpetual regency: the “one king” of the planet is a revered and sacred mummy relic, and the princes of the planet rule in his name. The mummy is fraudulently taken off the planet, and the Prince demands the right to pursue it to earth to recover their world’s most sacred treasure.

Turns out, the theft was a sham. The prince allowed, nay facilitated, the theft of the mummy which could be stuffed with literature and technical manuals so that they might be smuggled back to his world.

There’s a large naval battle as one of the representatives of the galactic federation pursues the rogue prince, who fakes his death, faked a mummy (lost in the battle), and ultimately returns to his people with the promise of a new golden age.

Again, not a bad story, but it suffered greatly in the telling, and I would’ve much rather it be told by a Brackett or a Kline. It’s not something I can easily explain—not within the limitations of time I have for this column—so I can only suggest that you read it for yourself.

This is the last day of the Cirsova Issue 9 & 10 Kickstarter! Be sure to back today if you haven’t already!

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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.

14_1949_fall_planet_anderson.jpg.scaled1000raid on the termites

http://www.castaliahouse.com/short-reviews-the-enchantress-of-venus-by-leigh-brackett/

http://www.castaliahouse.com/short-reviews-the-giants-return-by-robert-abernathy/

http://www.castaliahouse.com/short-reviews-ordeal-in-space-by-ralph-sloan/

http://www.castaliahouse.com/short-reviews-captain-midas-by-alfred-coppel-jr/

http://www.castaliahouse.com/short-reviews-signal-red-by-henry-guth/

http://www.castaliahouse.com/short-reviews-the-wheel-is-death-by-roger-dee/

http://www.castaliahouse.com/short-reviews-action-on-azura-by-robertson-osborne/

http://www.castaliahouse.com/pulp-advertisements/

http://www.castaliahouse.com/retro-fandom-friday-is-fandom-terrible-and-should-we-cut-them-off-yn/

http://www.castaliahouse.com/short-reviews-vulcans-workshop-by-harl-vincent/

http://www.castaliahouse.com/short-reviews-hellhounds-of-the-cosmos-by-clifford-d-simak/

http://www.castaliahouse.com/short-reviews-the-raid-on-the-termites-by-paul-ernst/

http://www.castaliahouse.com/short-reviews-priestess-of-the-flame-by-sewell-peaslee-wright/

Valentine’s Weekend Haul & Kickstarter Update

My girlfriend doesn’t understand how I can blow through a thrift-store or antique mall like a whirlwind and in a matter of minutes be ready to go look at the next one.  It’s because of my laser-focus: I know what I’m looking for and I can tell when I’m wasting my time.  When you’re looking for old board games and vintage sci-fi, you can tell by just a glimpse of the gingham bunny dolls and wheelbarrow planters that your time will be wasted by this or that booth.

But my hunting was not in vain!  For just around $40, I scored a 1932 issue of Astounding featuring Raid on the Termites as the cover story, three issues of G-Men Detective Magazine, Bloodrock’s 3rd album, and a little Starscream.  Going by ebay prices, this haul should’ve cost around $500.  I may need to get some document repair tape for the spines so I don’t lose the covers, but for the most part, these are in pretty good shape.

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There are about two days left on the Cirsova Kickstarter.  We’re just shy of the $1000 mark.  More than anything, I’d like to sell the back cover advertisement, but overall I’m pretty happy with how the Kickstarter has turned out.  The one upside of not having sold much adspace is that it’s less work I need to do between the end of the Kickstarter and sending out the first copies.

I’ll be ordering the final proof of the hardcover this week. A week from tomorrow and some change, I’ll be ordering a final proof of the softcover.  Once I have those and have kickstarter money in my pocket, I’ll begin sending out backer rewards.

Short Reviews – …And Then There Were None, Eric Frank Russell

…And Then There Were None appeared in the June 1951 issue of Astounding Science Fiction.  I PROMISE I will finish 02/74 M of F&SF later!

Russell

Well, there WAS a bicycle in the story!

No, this one didn’t have anything to do with Agatha Christie story by the same name. Erik Frank Russell’s short story is the final piece of what would eventually become The Great Explosion, the satirical saga of an attempt to reunify human worlds by interstellar ship several hundred years after a diaspora that saw various cults, sects, etc. leave to find their own space and make room on Earth. Sound familiar?

…And Then There Were None starts out feeling like a joke that begins to run a little long. I don’t tend to care for this sort of satirical sci-fi story, as they often feel like they’re trying too hard and being precious. I slog through them and wait for the payoff and groan, because it’s usually some sort of bad pun that I saw coming from a mile away. Well, about half-way through, …And Then There Were None finally tells its joke, the punchline is about what you’d expect, and then the story gets interesting.

The spaceship has landed on a world where no one cares that a starship has landed, no one has time for the pretentious ambassador of earth, and everyone just wants them to “MYOB!” (Spoilers: the punchline of the joke is Mind Your Own Business) I’ll grant that it does a bit of a misdirect, alluding that the people of the world speak in purely literal terms (like in in deCamp’s Undesired Princess), but that’s merely an affectation of their speech. The inhabitants, the Gand, as they call themselves (after Gandhi), live by practice of an obligation based economy combined with the maxim “Freedom – I won’t”. Everyone does what they have to do as obligation requires, but if not, they basically will tell folks to “MYOB”.

Once it shovels through the initial mess of the setup, …And Then There Were None gets moving along nicely as the spacemen contemplate the implications of the planet’s philosophy which ultimately leads to a breakdown of discipline as soldiers realize that if enough of them tell their COs to screw off, there’s nothing they can do about them.

I’m split about 50/50 on this one; the first half was the sort of boring and predictable sf humor that I’m really not a fan of, but the second half was deliciously subversive, and I found myself wishing that more people were willing to live by the “Freedom – I Won’t” maxim. So, I’ll say that it averages out to a pretty good story. And looks like that throwaway line about the planet of fanatical nudists is expounded upon in its own chapter in the collected edition of the Great Explosion, so there’s always that to look forward to.

Unlike some of the other stories I’ve done Short Reviews for, this one is available to read for free online.

Civil War & Book Haul

Over the course of two nights, my dad & I managed to set up and play the first two turns of Civil War. My girlfriend could not wrap her head around the notion that we’d spent 3 hours playing Friday night and only finished two turns. Part of the reason for the length of turns in Civil War is the method of determining actions and turn length; turns can go on, while not indefinitely, for a very long time.

Each turn, both sides roll for command points and initiative. On the first roll, each player gets a number of command points for each theater based on their own roll and the priority of theater (which is set secretly by each player the previous turn). The difference between the players’ die rolls is used to determine how many actions each player may take, with the higher rolling player going first with an initiative advantage of one reinforcement point or one general without the cost of an action. Rolling identical initiatives will give both players additional command points, and move the command track marker along, unless the identical initiatives are listed on the command track as ones which will end the turn immediately. This goes on back and forth until both players have spent all of their command points and reinforcements or players make a turn ending initiative roll.

The mechanics of Civil War are designed to reflect the problems both sides had during the conflict. Supply and logistics are an issue for both players, but the south moreso. Historically, no sides were ever able to strike quick and decisive blows, but would rather skirmish, shift about, skirmish some more, and hope to eventually wear their enemy down. In Civil War, you can win several victories against an army, but in a subsequent pulse, reinforcements can negate any damage you’ve done beyond gaining advantageous grounds. Unless you have an exceptional general (a Lee or a Grant), most armies in a theater will only have two attacks in a turn, and there’s probably more productive use of your command points than having the Army of the Potomac and the Army of Northern Virginia go tit-for-tat. But when you’ve won a skirmish, you just feel like you have to press in pursuit for the kill, even knowing mechanically you’re not really getting that much of an edge.

So, in our first two turns, much of the mucking about happened in the Trans-Mississippi region. Stonewall Jackson led a small force to take Springfield and drive the Indians out of Kansas. Most of the operations were a wash, I couldn’t hold anything in Missouri, and Jackson was eventually ran back east, but not before three Union supply depots were burned. I may have made a mistake in not sticking Earl Van Dorn in Arkansas, thinking he’d do less harm banished to New Orleans; despite being an absolutely lousy general, he’s just about the only army level commander that the south can spare for that region early in the game.

Most of the rest of the turn was tit-for-tat along the Maryland/Virginia border while I built up the Army of the Tennessee. Beginning on Turn 3, both sides can make a play for Kentucky, and I want to have an army ready to do so while the Union’s attention has been divided.

I’m trying to get more reading done and less screwing around with antique video games (but Sword of Aragon is just soooo good!), and managed to knock out two of the books on my list from this weekend, a posthumously published Fritz Leiber Lovecraftian Sci-fi Horror, The Dealings of Daniel Kesserich, and a supplemental volume (a chunk of an earlier collection not entirely released in English) of short fiction by Stanislaw Lem, Memoirs of a Space Traveller: the Further Reminisces of Ijon Tichy.

Leiber’s Lovecraftian tale was a treat, and I’ll leave it at that; Lem’s short stories were a mixed bag. I find that I personally enjoy Lem the most when he is writing sci-fi horror tales of the “what hath we gods wrought?!” variety, in which mad scientists have unveiled their monstrosities that require a rethinking of human body, mind and soul. Some of his absurdist (often ad nauseum) stuff is a little too precious for me, and I won’t hold any attacks on straw capitalism he was probably forced to write in the 50s against him. But I prefer the Ijon Tichy as Randolf Carter to the Ijon Tichy as Baron Munchausen.

I really need to start doing my Short Reviews again, especially as I’ve got a lot of fodder for them. It’s just that my own writing and game development has taken up a lot of my time. Over the weekend, I picked up quite a haul to supplement my meager pulp collection, hopefully of the variety that will blow those 70s issues of Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction out of the water. For a little over $20, I got a stack of 15 issues of Astounding from between 1949 and 1951. The real score of my Sunday haul, though, was this copy of Planet Stories from 1949 featuring a Leigh Brackett Mars novel.

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