Sturgeon’s Law and the Pulps?

I see this over and over and over again. That the pulps only have a bad name because only 90% of them are bad, because Sturgeon’s Law says 90% of everything is bad, so don’t hold that against the pulps!

Euro-style games R something like the SF/F pulps. Most R trash, a minority R good, a small fraction transcend the formulas to become great. – Lewis Pulsipher (@lewpuls) 

Out of the many stories I’ve reviewed, I’ve yet to hit what I’m now calling “Sturgeon’s Pocket”, that rich, thick vein of 90% crap lying just below the surface crust. I’m thinking that maybe, just maybe, Sturgeon’s Law isn’t the best thing to use to defend (yes, defend) the pulps, because it’s just not true. This line of thinking is generally used to try to defend the “good pulp” from the reputation of the “bad pulp”, except most of the “bad pulp” is pretty good, just not amazing, and the “really bad pulp” has been rather sparse. Hell, I’ll even break it down by the names and numbers:

Exceptionally Good: 14

  • The Moon that Vanished, Leigh Brackett
  • Black Amazon of Mars, Leigh Brackett
  • Stalemate in Space, Charles L Harness
  • Queen of the Martian Catacombs, Leigh Brackett
  • Priestess of the Flame, Sewell Peaslee Wright
  • Raid on the Termites, Paul Ernst
  • Enchantress of Venus, Leigh Brackett
  • Coming of the Gods, Chester Whitehorn
  • Raiders of the Second Moon, Basil Wells
  • Red Witch of Mercury, Emmett McDowell
  • The Bubble Dwellers, Ross Rocklynne
  • Lorelei of the Red Mist, Leigh Brackett & Ray Bradbury
  • The Martian Circe, Raymond F. Jones
  • Moon of Danger, Albert de Pina

 

Very Good: 18

  • Miracle Town, William F. Temple
  • I Like You, Too, Joe Gibson
  • Asteroid of Fear, Raymond Z Gallun
  • Garden of Evil, Margaret St. Clair
  • SOS Aphrodite, Stanley Mullen
  • Hellhounds of the Cosmos, Clifford D. Simak
  • Vulcan’s Workshop, Harl Vincent
  • Captain Midas, Alfred Coppel Jr
  • Cosmic Yo-Yo, Ross Rocklynne
  • Mists of Mars, George A. Whittington
  • The Spider Men of Gharr, Wilbur Scott Peacock
  • Grifters’ Asteroid, HL Gold
  • The Sword of Johnny Damokles, Hugh Frazier Parker
  • The Last Monster, Gardner F. Fox
  • Juggernaut of Space, Ray Cummings
  • Quest on Phoebe, James R. Adams
  • Mo-Sanshon!, Bryce Walton
  • And Then There Were None, Eric Frank Russell

Pretty Good/Okay: 17

  • Softie, by Noel Loomis
  • Reverse English, John S. Carroll
  • Date Line, Noel Loomis
  • Cosmic Jackpot, George O. Smith
  • Yesterday’s Doors, Arthur J. Burks
  • Duel on Syrtis, Poul Anderson
  • Peril Orbit, C.J. Wedlake
  • Action on Azura, Robertson Osborne
  • Signal Red, Henry Guth
  • Ordeal in Space, Ralph Sloan
  • The Giants Return, Robert Abernathy
  • Battlefield in Black, George A. Whittington
  • And the Gods Laughed, Fredric Brown
  • Beer Trust Busters, AR Stuart
  • Mutiny, Larry Offenbecker
  • The Venus Evil, Chester S. Geier
  • Vassals of the Lode-Star, Gardner F. Fox

Okay/Not So Good: 10

  • The Referent, Ray Bradbury
  • Galactic Heritage, Frank Belknap Long
  • The Diversifal, Ross Rocklynne
  • The Envoy, Her, H.B. Fyfe
  • The Star Saint, A.E. Van Vogt
  • The Starbusters, Alfred Coppel Jr
  • Madcap Metalloids, WV Athanas
  • Prodigal Weapon, Vaseleos Garson
  • Formula for Conquest, James R. Adams
  • The Little Pets of Arkkhan, Vaseleos Garson

Terrible: 4

  • No Winter, No Summer, Damon Knight & James Blish
  • Square Pegs, by Ray Bradbury
  • That Mess Last Year, John D McDonald
  • The Wheel is Death, Roger Dee

 

Note that this ONLY includes pulp stories I’ve read and reviewed from the 50s and earlier. If I included stuff from the 70s Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction that I’d read and reviewed, the numbers would skew significantly towards terrible. For post pulp-era stories I’ve reviewed (*: or read to review but wound up not actually reviewing it), here’s the breakdown, which includes some F&SF, Flashing Swords, and one Vance story from an old Universe. (parenthesis is F&SF-only)

Exceptionally Good: 4(3)

  • The Bagful of Dreams, Jack Vance
  • Doctor Rivet and Supercon Sal, Gary K Wolf
  • The Horse Lord, Lisa Tuttle
  • The Mars Ship, Robert Thurston

Very Good: 4 (2)

  • The Tupilak, Poul Anderson
  • Storm in a Bottle, John Jakes
  • Not With a Bang But A Bleep, Gary Jennings
  • Nina, Robert Bloch

Pretty Good/Okay: 9 (7)

  • The Mountains of Sunset, the Mountains of Dawn, Vonda McIntyre
  • Time is Money, Haskell Barkin
  • The Lands Beyond the World, Michael Moorcock
  • Assault on a City, Jack Vance
  • The Exiled, The Hunted, George Guthridge
  • The Final Close, J.P. Dixon
  • The Holdouts, Kit Reed
  • The Star Eel, Robert F. Young
  • A Star is Born, Joseph Green*

Okay/Not so good: 4 (3)

  • Shoes, Raylyn Moore
  • In Rubble, Pleading, Michael Bishop
  • Swords Against the Marluk, Katherine Kurtz
  • Horror Movie, Stuart Dybek

Terrible: 7 (7)

  • A Delightful Comic Premise, Barry Malzberg
  • Mouthpiece, Edward Wellen*
  • The Attack of the Giant Baby, Kit Reed
  • Those Good Old Days of Liquid Fuel, Michael G Coney
  • Friday the Thirteenth, Isaac Asimov
  • My Boat, Joanna Russ
  • Graveyard Blues, Dennis Etchison*
  • A Game of Vlet, Joanna Russ*

New Review, Hugo Packets, and Tarzan Stuff

Jon Mollison of Seagull Rising has a new review up of Cirsova #5. You can read it here.

I’ve made a lot of people writing reviews, in part because it’s one of the easiest ways to promote and support us, but that’s not the only reason. Reviews let us know what works and what doesn’t. One advantage of our double issue was it let us throw a lot against the wall to see what would stick and what didn’t. In some cases, it was seen as one of our weaker issues because it was much less focused that our others, but some folks seemed to enjoy it ‘with the exception of a few stinkers’.

While I enjoyed all of the stories (else I wouldn’t have bought them), that sort of feedback lets us know what you, the readers, are enjoying and what you’re not. So, to help us maintain and improve the quality of the magazine, be sure to leave your feedback!

Hugo Voting Packets are finally available. With only two months to go before voting is final, I don’t have a lot of expectation that readers will make it that far into their packets if they’ve waited this long to start, but it will be what it will be.

Also, I have not forgotten about my need to write a review of Frayed Knights! I really loved it, so I really ought to hunker down and get the write up on that done. I’ve just been so ADD and OCD these last two months, I’ve been a complete mess (can autism have flare-ups?)

I finished Tarzan at the Earth’s Core last night, and I’d stand by my previous question:

If Edgar Rice Burroughs can tell a bad story but still make it balls-out awesome, is it still a bad story?!

TatEC spends so much time on its journey towards the otherwise unimportant reason for throwing Tarzan into Pellucidar that when it finally gets there, there’s very little book left and the story kind of peters out. Except the reason that it peters out is perfectly believable and doesn’t detract much from the story: once Tarzan, Jason, and Tarzan’s rifle squadron of African tribesmen are finally reunited with the airship and its crew, there’s not a lot that primitive pirate port is going to do except answer the ultimatum that they’ll bomb the city into oblivion by turning Emperor David I over to his friends. Plus, Jana snaps out of her Tsundere fugue and declares her love for Jason, so we get the important ending we’re all waiting for.

With our G3 game taking a short hiatus, I may take an opportunity to flesh out my WW-2 rules-lite and run a Pellucidar mini campaign.

As I wrap, I’ll leave you with this one great exchange that perfectly illustrates the sort of tough pulp dames Burroughs wrote as well as his sense of humor:

“We will accompany you, then,” said Thoar [Jana’s brother], and then his brow clouded as some thought seemed suddenly to seize upon his mind. He looked for a moment at Jason, and then he turned to Jana. “I had almost forgotten,” he said. “Before we can go with these people as friends, I must know if this man offered you any injury or harm while you were with him. If he did, I must kill him.”

Jana did not look at Jason as she replied. “You need not kill him,” she said. “Had that been necessary The Red Flower of Zoram would have done it herself.”

“Very well,” said Thoar, “I am glad because he is my friend. Now we may all go together.”

Reviews of Stuff (Which Probably Aren’t Gonna Happen) – Ethics in Pulp Journalism

I’ve added a lot of contemporary stuff to my reading pile lately, but for a handful of reasons, I probably won’t be actually reviewing a lot of it.

I’ve reached a point where conflicts of interest are going to put a damper on a lot of the content I could write about the newer stuff on my reading list. If I feel particularly strongly about a work that i want to share, I may end up singing it from the rooftops with the appropriate disclaimer, but…

Pulp Revolution Folks

I really can’t review stuff coming out of the Pulp Revolution crowd honestly and dispassionately. I’m too close with many of the writers and in some cases have even offered services to see stuff get to market.  If there’s something I like, my review will doubtlessly be colored by my personal relationship with folks involved. If there’s something I don’t like, I’ll be tempted to restrain criticism on account of those personal relationships. A lot of these people have written reviews for Cirsova, and I don’t want to get into review swapping. Not just that, they’ve spent money on us, buying copies and sometimes advertisements, and no negative review can be trusted, because no matter what, I’ll be writing in ways that don’t chase fans away.

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I will likely avoid reviewing works by writers or editors who have advertised with us or done ad-swaps. At least within a recent time-frame. I’ll be sure to try to highlight those works and creators who have tried to support us, but I won’t be reviewing, because a positive review will look like I’m sucking up to capital and a negative review would be self-consciously written to not drive away future capital.

I’ve ad-swapped with Red Sun and with Storyhack, and I’m happy to talk those guys up; I’ve referred authors to the former when I haven’t had money or space, and I’ll likely do the same with the latter in the future. But I probably won’t review specific stories or issues of those publications.

Other Stuff

Some folks have sent me stuff for review. If I have it in print, I’ll try to get to it in a reasonable amount of time, I really can’t add anything else to my queue for a bit. Open submissions are coming up, and that’s going to be taking up A LOT of my time.

I already feel like the quality of my content is slipping because I have too many things going on.  I’d like to be able to maintain my daily M-F schedule, but if I need to dial it back in June and July, I might have to.

 

Comics & Comics

For various reasons, I did not have the car on Saturday, but I decided to take a stroll to my local comic book store because I didn’t want to miss Free Comic Book Day.

I walked 4 miles. And the Free Comics were all trash.

Well, maybe they weren’t all trash, but the either looked like trash or just weren’t anything I was interested in. And I did get there kinda late. And some folks have shown me stuff that I might have grabbed if it were there.

But it was mostly the usual Indie & mid-list suspects and surprisingly little offering from either Marvel or DC (not one, but two DC Girls).

Regardless of whether any of the Free Comics were worth grabbing, it was a good opportunity to shoot the breeze with Michael Tierney, whose new Edgar Rice Burroughs 100 Year Art Chronology will be coming out in a couple of weeks.

I did end up reading a few graphic novels my GF snagged from the library, though, so my Free Comic weekend was not comic free.

The Time Museum – Matthew Loux

This one was pretty fun. A super-smart, geeky girl learns that her uncle is the curator of the museum of Earth, a repository of all Earth’s knowledge and science that exists outside of normal time. The museum staff travel through time to collect and preserve, and the geeky girl is invited to be part of the competition with several other youths from Earth’s history for an internship with the museum.

It reminded me a bit of some of the earlier Gunnerkrigg stuff, but with a faster pace. All of the characters had their endearing charms and at no point did the super-smart, geeky girl come across as an abrasive know-it-all, nor was there the sort of over-the-top, in-your-face girl-power attitude that you often see creeping into characters in the smart geek girl trope.

Nah, this one was really good, and I’m already looking forward to the next volume.

Lumberjanes 6: Sink or Swim –  Shannon Watters and Kat Leyh

Lumberjanes is something whose premise is something I should theoretically like, but I’ve never been impressed by it. Here, I’d given it another chance to see if it had gotten any better. At least so far as I’m concerned, it hasn’t.

A camp councilor, who is a sailor and a werewolf, has her ship captured by selkies who think she’s stolen one of their skins.

I can’t quite put my finger on why I find this title disagreeable, but the characters, the story, and the action just always falls flat. Despite the slew of supernatural in the woods around the camp, the stakes feel low, the danger not immediate or compelling, and the resolutions predictable.

Glitterbomb – Jim Zub

A washed up actress struggling to find work is taken over by an alien entity and takes bloody revenge on her agent, the Shatner expy who raped her and forced her to leave what was supposed to be her big-break role on not-Star Trek, and the Hollywood backstabbers who showed up to his memorial gala.

For whatever reason, this comic was more enjoyable that I was able to make it sound in that summary. It was dark, downbeat, and depressing, but they managed to capture some real character pathos and evoke some real sympathy in a fairly short story. It reminded me a bit of Locke & Key, but not quite as fun (because it wasn’t an adventure) and not quite as dark (lotta kids die pretty brutal deaths in Locke & Key).

Supposedly, Glitterbomb is ongoing, but I’m not sure how, given how this one ends.

 

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…

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.

The Force Awakens to Put Me to Sleep

In all of the ongoing discussions as to whether or not Rey from the Force Awakens was a Mary Sue, I seem to have missed anyone warning me just how boring Episode 7 was.*

Keep in mind, I’m someone who loved Rogue One and has gone to bat for it a few times – it restored in me a love of Star Wars I haven’t really felt since playing TIE Fighter. That said, if I HAD seen The Force Awakens, I probably would’ve skipped out on Rogue One.

Absolutely nothing in The Force Awakens seemed to have any real weight, and everyone was just sleepwalking through their roles. Han and Chewie looked as if they couldn’t wait for it to be over and done with. With Carrie Fisher’s passing, seeing Leia show up as tired and old and barely relevant to the story is even more of a gut punch and should’ve undercut anyone’s excitement that ‘hurr hurr, she’s a general now, because women are important in sci-fi for a change!’

Despite how much he’d been hyped everywhere I’d seen in fandom, Poe felt about as relevant as Biggs did before all of his scenes were cut.

Finn’s affections for Rey can only be excused as thirst, cuz she treats him like crap through the whole movie. He’d’ve been much better as an “I seen some shit” vet who’d finally had enough. He needed a better “God is not here today, Priest” moment.

Rey was more annoying than I’d expected because I’d never heard Daisy Ridley speak before. Her character comes off as a whiny scold. I disliked her from the moment she bullied that random desert nomad guy into giving her BB-8 for no reason. We’re told over and over that she’s special, but we’re never told why. We’re told Chewie likes her, and since Chewie is Han’s morality pet and supposedly a good judge of character, we ought to like her, too.

Starkiller was just there to have another Death Star in the background. It barely felt relevant. I don’t even remember if the not-Rebels were concerned about figuring out how to destroy it; it kinda felt like “it’s all good, we’ve got this, done this twice already”, so there was no tension.

No, the big secret everyone was after was Luke Skywalker’s whereabouts, because the Star Wars universe is obviously just as full as people obsessing over the canon as real life.

And what’s up with Snoke? Emperor just happened to have an ugly darkside giant tucked away somewhere to pick up the reins? No! I’d’ve much rather seen a Hellenistic Empire split between ex-governors and former moffs playing and being played by the Rebel Alliance against one another. Yet Hux and Kylo Ren are the best the Imperial remnants have to offer.

I’ve seen complaints that the characters in Rogue One were flat because they didn’t get much onscreen development. I think it worked there, though, because Rogue One relied on Tropes – you knew enough about the characters because you understood their functioning role in the story: Pilot, Heavy Weaponry Guy, Kung-Fu Dude, so on and so forth. It’s black and white cowboy hats and Henry Fonda’s blue eyes. The Force Awakens had nothing. It had neither character exposition/development nor fictional tropes to rely upon in the absence of development. As terrible as they were, the prequels were a hundred times better at character development and storytelling than The Force Awakens, and that’s saying something!

On a final note, Captain Phasma was a hell of a wasted character. How great would it be to see a Star Wars movie where the dashing rebel pilot ends up stuck with ice queen stormtrooper captain lady?

“Take the helmet off.”
“No…”
“I said take it off!”
::pretty dame under the stormtrooper helmet::
“I can see why the Empire would want to hide a pretty face like that.”
“Sh-shut up!”::angry blushes:: “I’ll have you executed when we get back to the Star Destroyer!”
“IF we get back to the Star Destroyer…”
::giant space monsters show up that they have to fight together before they fall in love::

Anyway…

@corduroyalist summed it up quite well: I found force awakens a disjointed pointless movie with the trauma of watching Han Solo be a loser & then die.