Projects Update! Wild Stars III and Cirsova #8 & #9

 

First, we’re gearing up for Wild Stars III: Time Warmaggedon.

This is a high-octane space and time-travel in the vein of Gardner F. Fox, Albert DePina, and Raymond F. Jones. Written by Michael Tierney, whose 4-volume history of the Art of Edgar Rice Burroughs is coming out this summer, and edited by Brian Niemeier (The Soul Cycle) and yours truly, I can assure you this is gonna be one heck of a ride.

What does Brian think about this project?

Wild Stars III is just what fans of fun, heroic action stories have been starving for. How do I know? Easy. I’m the book’s editor.

Michael Tierney has been a joy to work with. He is a true pro whose style and outlook remind me of the old pulp masters. His latest book is a whirlwind space adventure that will become the gold standard for putting fun first.

Wild Stars III: Time Warmageddon is a significant source of all your daily pulp requirements:

 

The more I’ve read this story, the more I love it. We understand, though, that since this is the newest entry into a franchise that has been around for 35 years, it might not be immediately accessible to new readers, so not only will we be making some of the rare and out-of-print Wild Stars material available, we may even be giving the 2002 comic-run away for free to new fans and old picking up this limited edition of Wild Stars III on Kickstarter.

Wild Stars 3 covers.png

More details on that soon, but we’re looking at taking pre-orders in June, once we get the cover art in from Tim Lim (yes, that Tim Lim).

In other news…

Cirsova #8 draws ever nearer to being done and ready to go out the door. Actually, it should’ve been ready today, but Amazon is being weird about stuff and they have an obnoxiously long turn-around time for corrections.

But the digital editions are done and there is a pre-order page up.

Issue 8 Cover w Clock ad v2 Front Cover ONly updated

Issue 9’s art is done and the latest work-file is in the hands of one of our trusty editors.Issue 9 Cover Front Only low res.png

I’ll be ready to start taking subscription orders for the final issues of Cirsova Volume 1 soonish.

Lastly, here’s a tease for you:

Stark Tease.png

Art by Star Two.

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On Eric John Stark and the D&D Barbarian Class Part 2 – Civilization and Barbarism

The other day, during the discussion about Stark and Barbarians, I noted that Stark does NOT come from the template of European Barbarians, and would be more akin to an African warrior or Indian wild-boy. Cirsova contributor Jon M. Weichsel (whose story “Going Native” will appear in our Summer issue) jumped in, and we drilled down a bit on the nature of “barbarians”, though it’s a digression that took us fairly far from the original topic of Dungeons & Dragons.

 

Gitabushi: I still think y’all are overthinking this. Appendix N is supposed to be inspiration, not source documents. The authors draw upon Euro-American legend to make stories, just like the game does. Europeans were barbarians to the Greco-Romans, but the Norse were barbarians to Euros. Hence, barbarians are norse/scandi berserkers. And Brackett, REH, et al, drew upon the *Euro* legend to make their barbarian characters.

Cirsova: Except that’s not the case for Stark, at all. He’s closer to either Mowgli or a sub-saharan african.

JonWeichsel: Yes. Stark is closer to Mowgli or Tarzan than Conan. He was an orphan raised by savage aliens on Mercury and was then rescued and civilized by a human but still carries some of the savage ways he was brought up with. I wouldn’t call him a barbarian.

Bushi: I think there’s an argument for that. There’s also an argument that Mowgli and Tarzan would be barbarians, too. Comparing Conan and Stark in text, they’re both uncivilized men who can function in society but still hold it in contempt.

JonWeichsel: But Conan is a foreigner who adheres to a Barbarian code despite the pressures of civilization. With Stark/Tarzan/other feral children there is an internal conflict between their wild upbringing and their humanity.

Bushi: I understand the distinction as you are laying it out, but I don’t get how they can’t all fall under the barbarian umbrella.

Cirsova: Well, in part because we need to define what we mean by “Barbarian” mechanically. If we mean “Barbarian” in the 1e mechanical sense, Conan’s a Barbarian, Stark is not. If we mean “Barbarian” in the trope as it was understood during the 70s S&S revival, then yes [Stark is]. Also worth noting, in 1e, there’s no restriction on a Barbarian’s armor, so yes, your Conan-esque barbarian could be wearing full plate.

Bushi: I mean a barbarian can mean a tribesman, sure. But it can also just mean a savage, uncivilized person, no?

JonWeichsel: Stark does combine the feral child and barbarian tropes, but as far as literature goes, I’d say barbarian is a social class while feral child is a condition of being. Like, if you found some guy living in the woods who had been raised by wolves, would you call him a barbarian?

Bushi: I probably wouldn’t reject the classification, but it’s possible that [I] don’t have an accurate conception of “barbarian.” As I suggested, I’ve always just kind of thought “one who is apart from civilization; a savage.” I’m sure it’s a useful distinction, just not one I’ve drawn (though perhaps I should?)  Following that line of thought, it’s maybe barbarian vs wild man.

Cirsova: It’s a one-way window. The Civilized person can observe and perceive the Barbarism of another, but to the Barbarian, he simply sees himself and his way of life, not any barbarity. It’s a false/illusory binary. Because Conan and Stark and Tarzan have come to the other side, they can see their own Barbarism from the perspective of civilization, and they are analytical of their past and/or present condition.

Bushi: So would you class Stark, Conan, Tarzan the same?

Cirsova: We’re getting into philosophical stuff that doesn’t reflect at all on D&D’s mechanics, but they all existed in a condition that the civilized man would call “Barbarity”, they all move to a place where they could observe and reflect that Barbarity from a civilized perspective, and they all took very different things from their self-reflection on what the conditions of Barbarity meant and how they contrast for better and worse with a “Civilized” state. The reason it is a false/illusory binary is that the “Barbarian’s” state may also be one of Civilization and a Civilization’s may appear to another as a state of “Barbarity”. Barbarity is not an absence of civilization but a one-sided perceived drastic imbalance between them. Tarzan and Stark were born into more savage (less civilized) circumstances than Kull or Conan, but even Tarzan’s upbringing among the apes was not anarchic.

Bushi: Ok well. I am going to make the great leap and say that absent other evidence barbarian rage comes from Stark. Because it will help me sleep tonight.

On Eric John Stark and the D&D Barbarian Class

I’ve realized that one of the reasons why you don’t see as much gaming content here as you once did is that much of my energy now goes towards having discussions on game and Appendix N theory with Cirsova Contributor PC Bushi (whose story Antares will appear in our Fall issue) instead of blogging.

So, for those of you who mostly just follow the blog, I thought it would be worthwhile bringing the discussion over here to share some of our insights.

Bushi muses that Stark may have been a more likely inspiration for the Barbarian Rage trope than Conan. The most interesting highlights, though, are that I dug up both Tom Moldvay’s stats for Stark (15th level Fighter), which predates the official Barbarian PC class, and the first official writeup for a Barbarian class in AD&D. While the ur-Barbarian PC class does not feature a “Rage” ability, Moldvay’s Stark does, in which he ‘reverts to N’Chaka’ and gets crazy stat bonuses for a short period of time.

Bushi: So not that Conan doesn’t get pissed and kill people/things, but it strikes me that Eric John Stark is a more likely inspiration for the tropey barbarian rage.

HP: If you’re going to use “barbarian” as a distinct class in an RPG, Stark is the better source material in general.

Bushi: An interesting thesis. Tell me more.

HP: I sort of touch on it here.

Bushi: I don’t think any of that is wrong, but it doesn’t exactly make the argument that Stark is more of a barbarian than Conan. At least the literary Conan.

HP: I’m not saying he more of a barbarian, just better grist for a barbarian class.

Cirsova: I mean, I have made the argument in the past that Conan is what you get when you have 16 STR and 18 CON and say “Think I will roll a Thief then Dual-Class over to Fighter at some point so I can wear heavy armor.”

Gitabushi: Y’all might be overthinking this. D&D draws upon European history (or bad history) as much as fiction. And it draws upon fiction that draws upon fanciful variations of European history. That’s why the Cleric and Paladin are based on Catholic priest-warriors rather than Muslim. So rather than the Barbarian class being based on a literary figure, the class is best seen as based on the legendary Scandinavian Berserker that the literary figures are also based on.

Bushi: Sure. I’m just specifically thinking about the “barbarian rage” thing, which I think D&D probably made ubiquitous. I didn’t mean to imply that barbarians came from D&D. Was talking about “barbarian rage” as a game/media trope. Which I’m sure in part comes from historical berserkers, sure.

Cirsova: I somehow have the sneaking suspicion that most folks playing Barbarians wouldn’t know this and at best would picture Fafhrd & book Conan and at worst picture movie Conan.

“I am playing a barbarian. Basically he’s just a dude who is not Greek.”

And the game probably takes more inspiration from fantasy BS barbarians than actual Norse or Celtic warrior cultures. But it would be interesting to work some equivalent of the Ragnarok passion plays. It would make a great funnel.

Youth of the tribe go to collect their gravegoods, meet with the grave-maiden, fight the “werwolves” in the symbolic world’s death battle around winter solstice, then surprise! Something vaguely Fenrir-like shows up and starts killing people for realsies!

Count Donku: I’ve been beating this drum since forever, but Conan is definitely more of a fighter who dipped a few levels of rogue early in his career, which isn’t really optimal as a PC but he makes up for that with insane stat rolls.

Cirsova (aside): Actually, it would be good at early levels, because with the high con bonus and how quickly thieves level up, he’d have Fighter HP and decent thief skills by the time most folks were reaching level 2.

Bushi: I mean it kind of depends what we mean by “barbarian.” Conan is basically a tribesman who’s accumulated all sorts of different martial and leadership experiences, but Howard always stresses his disdain for civilization. In that regard I’m not really sure he’s any less barbarian. His sharp, primal instincts are often called by by Howard. What I’m referring to is more how Stark seems to fly into legitimate berserk rages and Conan doesn’t. Sure, but Stark also goes to cities. Not like he hates civilization so much that he’s become a hermit, either.

Cirsova: Stark also has PTSD from being left alone on hell world as a child having to fend off giant lizards with a stick until a space cop found and adopted him.

Bushi: Yeah, that could be a big contributor. Anyway my main point was that Stark seems to me like a likely genesis of the sterotypical barbarian flying into a fit of blind rage and killing everything. And yes, as [Gitabushi] says, that can go back further to berserkers.

Cirsova: Stark makes more sense if you look at him as more nuanced version of the Angry Black Man trope; he was marginalized himself, and is an outsider even in the world that took him in, so he sympathizes with and is angry for other marginalized peoples. Sometimes that anger boils over.

Gitabushi: I still think y’all are overthinking this. Appendix N is supposed to be inspiration, not source documents. The authors draw upon Euro-American legend to make stories, just like the game does. Europeans were barbarians to the Greco-Romans, but the Norse were barbarians to Euros. Hence, barbarians are norse/scandi berserkers. And Brackett, REH, et al, drew upon the *Euro* legend to make their barbarian characters.

Cirsova: Except that’s not the case for Stark, at all. He’s closer to either Mowgli or a sub-saharan african.

Bushi: Also Conan is basically a proto-Celt, no?

Cirsova: Yeah

Bushi: I’m sure the Norse berserkers were an inspiration for these guys, even if they weren’t the only ingredient.

Cirsova: Also, Tom Moldvay has Stark as a 15th level Chaotic Good Fighter in AD&D. https://annarchive.com/files/Drmg028.pdf

Bushi: Did AD&D have the barbarian class?

Cirsova:  Stark’s stats apparently pre-date the Official inclusion of the Barbarian class. And Moldvay’s stats for Stark include “reverting to N’Chaka” ability, which is basically Rage. Dude, we are “an hour or two’s more research than I have time for” away from a major breakthru in proving you may be right! There is literally now evidence that would support the theory that “Berserker Rage mechanics as it appears as an ability of the Barbarian Class directly descending from some BS Moldvay cooked up to stat Stark.”

Okay, now to burst your bubble. Original AD&D Barbarian class didn’t have Rage. It was originally an outdoorsy, high HP Fighter/Thief/Ranger mix. https://annarchive.com/files/Drmg063.pdf

Bushi: My question is when did they pick up rage, and was there any cited or suggestion inspiration?

Cirsova: Well, I linked the original official class. I don’t know when Rage was introduced. I don’t have time to research it right now, but I’ll try to aggregate some stuff for a post next week.

Also worth seeing how Rage stacks up to N’Chaka Beastmode: +5 to hit +7 to damage +5 AC penalty +8 save vs. empathic spells/charms 2d4 rounds

There’s an interesting digression on the nature of Civilization vs. Barbarism, but I’ll save that for tomorrow!

Happy Birthday Leigh Brackett!

Look, I don’t have any new or insightful content to share right now, but let’s at least revisit these highlights:

https://cirsova.wordpress.com/2017/08/21/did-you-just-misgender-leigh-brackett/

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

http://www.castaliahouse.com/short-reviews-the-vanishing-venusians/

http://www.castaliahouse.com/retro-fandom-friday-bring-us-the-head-of-harry-parkhurst/

Did You Just Misgender Leigh Brackett!?

Okay, there’s been this long-running narrative myth that while Leigh Brackett didn’t have to change her name to hide that she was a woman, she somehow flew beneath the radar with a masculine sounding sound name and found success that would’ve been denied to her if it were more commonly known she was not a man.

Well, I’ve found a smoking gun.

Not only was it known that Leigh Brackett was a woman, Wilbur Peacock, the editor of Planet Stories at the time, went out of his way to correct someone who referred to Brackett as “he” in a letter to the Vizigraph (Planet Stories’ letters section).

Brackett Planet Stories

Planet Stories, May 1943 Issue, P 124

This was relatively early in Brackett’s career, too. She’d only been publishing scifi in the pulps since around 1940, but in 1943 Peacock stated with confidence (and accuracy) that she would be one of the greats of science fiction.

So, a couple things. Sometimes the pulps, SF pulps in particular, are painted as some kind of boys’ club, yet most evidence I’ve seen implies that couldn’t be further from the truth. Weird Tales had several women writing both stories and letters. The issue of Thrilling I read had a pretty even split in the letters section. This is one of the earlier Vizigraphs I’ve read; here you have the Editor not only praising Brackett and confirming that she’s a woman, he even encourages the female readership he’s certain exists to interact more and get involved. Given that the later issues I’ve read tended to have more women writing into to the letters section, it seems they did!  Even if there wasn’t anything close to gender parity, the picture of the pulps and sci-fi as hostile and closed off to women just doesn’t jibe with reality.

Anyway, I would’ve included some more links, but Jeffro scooped me on writing the actual article, since I found this over the weekend and was gonna wait (but clearly this was important enough that it couldn’t wait!)

 

Fall and Winter Review Round-Up

Been a long time since I shared a list of the stories I’ve been covering at Castalia House.

planet_summer49

http://www.castaliahouse.com/46255-2/ (Queen of the Martian Catacombs, by Leigh Brackett)

http://www.castaliahouse.com/short-reviews-the-madcap-metalloids-by-w-v-athanas/

http://www.castaliahouse.com/short-reviews-s-o-s-aphrodite-by-stanley-mullen/

http://www.castaliahouse.com/short-reviews-the-starbusters-by-alfred-coppel-jr/

http://www.castaliahouse.com/short-reviews-peril-orbit-by-c-j-wedlake/

http://www.castaliahouse.com/short_reviews_garden_of_evil_by_margaret_st_clair/

http://www.castaliahouse.com/short-reviews-stalemate-in-space-by-charles-l-harness/

planet_stories_march_1951_cover

http://www.castaliahouse.com/short-reviews-black-amazon-of-mars-by-leigh-brackett/

http://www.castaliahouse.com/short-reviews-duel-on-syrtis-by-poul-anderson/

http://www.castaliahouse.com/short-reviews-the-star-saint-by-a-e-van-vogt/

http://www.castaliahouse.com/short-reviews-the-envoy-her-by-h-b-fyfe/

http://www.castaliahouse.com/short-reviews-asteroid-of-fear-by-raymond-z-gallun/

http://www.castaliahouse.com/short-reviews-the-diversifal-by-ross-rocklynne/

Happy Birthday, Leigh Brackett!

Today was the Queen of Sci-Fi’s birthday. Last year, her centennial saw a spat of narrative-spinning articles either diminishing her contributions to the Star Wars Universe or propagating falsehoods about how she had to hide her identity and faced top-down sexism in the SF industry (an allegation she herself denied in interviews).

What’s the web saying about her this go round, with no new Star Wars movie on the immediate horizon for Christmas release?

Leigh Brackett (1915-1978) was a science fiction novelist; she was known as the “queen of space opera” for her novels and stories about Eric John Stark.  She was also a screenwriter.  She worked a number of times with Howard Hawks, on films like The Big Sleep, Rio Bravoand El Dorado, and also contributed—just how much is unclear—to the script for The Empire Strikes Back. – December 7: Happy Birthday Ellen Burstyn and Sara Bareilles, Lebeau’s Le Blog

(Worth noting, one the biggest obfuscating factors in determining her contributions is the public absence of the intermediary scripts Lucas wrote between Brackett’s first draft and the version handed off to Kasdan. Nonetheless, her original script is available for comparison against the final project, though it should be remembered that it was a first draft and the lady herself was no longer with us to make her own rewrites.)

We’re only going to talk about the SF/F Ace Doubles here; some people don’t know that Ace didn’t just do SF/F doubles, they did westerns, mystery, and the like as well. In fact, D-31 (A.E. van Vogt’s World of Null-A and Universe Maker) is actually the first SF/F Ace Double. Interestingly, it’s not as collectible—judging by price—as the next one, which was (Figure 2) D-36: Robert E. Howard’s Conan The Conqueror and Leigh Brackett’s The Sword of Rhiannon. (We’ll get onto talking about price in a bit.) There’s been a lot of controversy over the last year or so about whether the “good old stuff” is really that good; some people claim that it—and this is a hell of a claim to make about a whole genre—lacks literary merit, is not socially acceptable any more (because of changing social morés), and is the bastion of “old white guy” writers. Literary merit is not something I’m going to argue; it’s my contention that only time will tell. Literature goes in and out of fashion, and what’s part of Sturgeon’s 90% now may well be part of the 10% tomorrow. (You will, of course, remember Theodore Sturgeon’s comment that “90% of everything is crud,” often misquoted as “…is crap,” though I do sympathize with the latter version, often called “Sturgeon’s Law.”) Social acceptability is another thing; we cannot change the past (although we could, if we wanted, revise what was written in the past), so when we’re reading something from, say, Victor Hugo’s time, we don’t attempt to revile Hugo for not holding modern societal views on theft or treatment of criminals. So should we revile Isaac Asimov for his sometimes laughable fictional treatment of women? (I’m separating this particular example from the real-life Asimov who, I understand, was somewhat of a “serial groper”; something that is entirely unacceptable today.) And for the third fault claimed above, what about writers like Leigh Brackett? You can hardly say she was an old white guy; in fact, many of the writers published by Ace were—although often white and male—hardly old at the time. –  DOUBLE, DOUBLE, WHAT’S THE TROUBLE?, Amazing Stories

Most of the Good Old Stuff I’ve read has been pretty good, but Brackett is phenomenal.

It’s fitting that at the end of her life the Queen of Space Opera Leigh Brackett wrote the early script for The Empire Strikes Back. While there’s debate about how many of Brackett’s words and creations remain in that Star Wars sequel, I like to believe her spirit — and the spirit of the worlds she created through her stories — gave the film its heart and soul. – Space operas boldly go to the heart of the human soul, Jason Sandford

Here, here!

Two points on this, one of cinema’s most famous twists and most oft-quoted lines — or, I should say, oft-misquoted lines. The actual dialogue never included Luke’s name, with Vader only saying “No, I am your father.” A minor mistake but a crucial one for something so famous. Just as Lucas hadn’t planned out multiple trilogies from day one, he didn’t even anticipate this pivotal twist, one that defines so much of the trilogy’s ultimate themes, until he was writing Empire Strikes Back with Leigh Brackett that the outline changed from his original plan for Luke to meet the ghost of his real father on Dagobah. – 6 Lies You’ve Been Told About Star Wars, Cheatsheet

#7 – Leigh Brackett’s script was discarded.

If you’ve not read Brackett, do your self a favor.  Read her.  There are very few writers who can write fast paced action adventure with complex and flawed characters like she can and do so with a sense of poetry. – Leigh Brackett at 101, Adventures Fantastic

Yup.

Leigh Brackett was one of the best there ever was. As long as we live, we’ll cherish her name. –HAWKS MADE A NUMBER OF WESTERNS IN HIS LIFE, NONE OF WHICH HAD THE INTENSE IMPACT ON US THE WAY ‘RIO BRAVO’ DID, Cinephilia & Beyond

While I found far fewer big-name media sites name-dropping Brackett this week, I’d have to say that the overall quality of content regarding her has certainly improved as a matter of percentages for her 101st as compared with last year.