File the Serial Numbers Off

I’ve said in the past and on numerous occasions that I don’t want to see stories about elves or stories where Cthulhu shows up. Even in a good story, when these sorts of elements are used and borrowed, they end up detracting from the story in my eyes.

If you’re not filing off the serial numbers of these things, it’s either because you’re lacking creativity and hoping to rely on established tropes or you’re hoping that by connecting your piece to those related tropes that you can elevate your writing on the merits of the reference. Or somewhere in between. There are shout-outs, yes, and these can be great – Shub Niggurath as the final boss of Quake or the hipster cultist shouting “Ia, Cthulhu!” before the fat Italian editor gets murdered in Foucault’s Pendulum were AWESOME. But if Quake had been a parade of named monsters from Lovecraft as opposed to horrors that FEEL Lovecraftian, or if Umberto Eco had peppered his book with lots of “LOL, Cthulhu, amirite?” it would’ve drastically reduced the effectiveness of the references.

But more than that, have some faith in your creativity! If you’re damnably insistent on writing elves, fine, but if you want to go the “our elves are different route”, which face it, everyone does these days, take a pinch of that creativity that makes your elves different and call them something besides elves. If nothing else, calling your elves something else, even calling them Morves or Velse will be an improvement, because people won’t look at it and say “oh, look, another elf story!”

And eldritch horror monsters? Why Cthulhu or one of the other big-name badguy’s from the Mythos canon, unless you’re trying to coast on the popularity of Cthulhu (and there are folks who will read anything Cthulhu, but that’s not the point)? Name your own big bad evil scary monster god. Sure, he can be Cthulhu, but if you call him something like Uhlthuc you can fool folks into thinking you’re some kinda original writer guy, or something!

Don’t use elves or Cthulhu as a crutch! Yeah, I know that Cthulhu is a cottage industry, but I can tell you right now that your stories will improve by at least %15 or your money back if your evil monster beyond the gates is Uhlthuc and your similar-but-different elves are ‘the Velse’.

(Note: If you submit a story using the names Uhlthuc and ‘the Velse’ and I accept them on merits of story, I reserve the right to withhold the per-word bonus on the first 2500 words; file those serial numbers off harder!)

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…

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.

Planetary Awards Voting Open Now

Cirsova contributor Schuyler Hernstrom has several pieces that were nominated in the Short Fiction category for this year’s Planetary Awards. At least two of them (The Gift of the Ob-Men and Images of the Goddess) can be read for free on our website.

Originally posted on Planetary Awards: We’re expanding the voting pool for the awards this year, so read this entire post to find out if YOU are eligible to vote. But first, here are the 2016 stories nominated by book bloggers across the internet: Short Stories / Novellas “Athan and the Priestess” by Schuyler Hernstrom, found in…

via Vote for the best stories of 2016 — Planetary Defense Command

Jeffro Johnson’s Appendix N: The Literary History of Dungeons & Dragons is Out Now

I’m a bit late to the party on blogging this here, but hopefully devoting several posts over the past couple of years to the work he’s done on this can excuse my tardiness.

appendix-n-coverIf you’re like me and holding out for the paperback, I hear it’s coming soon (next month or so). If you’re cool with e-Reader stuff, go ahead and drop some coin on this now.

I could go on at extreme lengths as to why this book is important, how it brought the Appendix N gospel out of the hands of the OSR and discussions on ‘purity of D&D’ into the broader Science Fiction and Fantasy community, rediscovering and evangelizing treasures that were lost from public conscious due to changes in publishing practices and the retail market.

This project is one of two of the most important external factors on Cirsova being where it is and what it is. James Hutchings’s Age of Fable game brought me into the OSR and blogging, and Jeffro’s Appendix N series led me to start a magazine.

You really need to check this out.

Planetary Awards Update and Reminders

This is just another reminder to all book bloggers out there to get your nominations in for the Planetary Awards. You can find more information here at the official site.

I probably will not be nominating anything personally this year, because frankly a lot of the best fiction I’ve read from 2016 is that which I’ve published. I’ve read some other really great recent stories, like those in Swords of Steel and Robert Kroese’s Starship Grifters, but those aren’t from 2016, and I probably won’t get around to reading Swords of Steel Vol 2 in time to make the Planetary Awards.

Karl K. Gallagher’s* Torchship Pilot was excellent and absolutely worth checking out if you have not. The only reasons I’m not nominating it for this year’s award are that I haven’t read the final version yet** (I had the honor of being a beta reader; thanks, Karl!) and because last year I nominated Torchship, the previous book, and it won!

Cirsova contributors Schuyler Hernstrom and Brian K. Lowe have both gotten noms for this year’s Planetary Awards, for Images of the Goddess***(SH) and The Invisible City(BKL), and for Athan and the Priestess(SH).

*: Also a Cirsova contributor.

**:Both of my parents, who are huge SF aficionados, have read it and thought it was amazing, as good as the first, if not better! Now that Mom’s finished it, I can get my copy back and read it myself.

***: Images of the Goddess appeared in Cirsova #2 (Summer, 2016). It can be read for free here, but if you want to kick a few bucks our way, it’s on Amazon and Lulu.