Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Street & Smith's Doc Savage Covers

I've talked about my interest in Doc Savage elsewhere. When I first encountered him, it was in the James Bama ripped-shirt-and-skull-cap era. The reprints I've been devouring lately retain the old 1930s-40s Street & Smith covers, and I love 'em. I don't judge a book by its cover, but a great cover enhances my enjoyment of it. Here's some of my favorites that are either iconic Doc poses or that just scream "pulp adventure!" There's also a rare cover that didn't feature Doc himself: his teammates Monk and Ham getting squashed in "The Crimson Serpent." Enjoy!

Monday, February 25, 2013

The Amazing Leigh Brackett

I'll admit it: I'm calling Leigh Brackett "amazing" on the strength of half of one novel, The Ginger Star. I cannot put it down. Knowing my fondness for the "sword and planet" and "dying earth" sub-genres, Andrew at Pulp Fiction recommended Brackett's novels about Eric John Stark. I picked up The Ginger Star, The Hounds of Skaith and The Reavers of Skaith from Paizo's Planet Stories Library, and I have, overnight, become a huge Leigh Brackett fan.

As for The Ginger Star, it has been a wild ride. Yesterday was one of those lazy Sundays where you wake up, start to read, and then realize it's time for bed. All day, I was enthralled with the fast-paced yet subtly philosophical adventures of Stark, who, despite being raised (Tarzan-like) by primitive aliens, is one of the more human heroes of swords & sorcery. I've always enjoyed the blending of sci-fi and fantasy, and this is a great example of it (Stark arrives on the planet Skaith via spaceship; it has a spaceport; outside of the main city, though, it's essentially a medieval fantasy world). A junta that controls the world won't let anyone emigrate off of it; Stark becomes embroiled in a revolution on Skaith, as the subject of a prophecy of a "dark man" who will "open the star-roads." Interestingly, the hero, Stark, has brown skin, which illustrators mostly ignored back in the old days when his adventures were first published. He originally adventured in our own solar system; in the 1970s, Brackett transported him to Skaith, returning to speculative fiction after a long time punching up noteworthy screenplays. 

The more I learn about Brackett, the more I like her. If anyone wants to have flat-out fun while reading, I don't think it gets much better. I guess I'll withhold final judgment until I read more of her books, but right now I have a pretty strong literary crush going.

I was surprised to learn how strong the influence of women has been on speculative fiction from the very beginning. Many were not obviously women, using male pseudonyms, or initials (like C.L. Moore, who I'll write about later). Leigh Brackett just happened to have a unisex name, and most readers thought she was a man. She was equally well known for writing hard-boiled mysteries and detective fiction. Her writing is what I call "rat-a-tat-tat;" it speeds along and doesn't waste words but has an aggressive poetic rhythm to it that begs to be read aloud. I've read that Brackett was known for bringing a more action-packed, breezy style derived from pulp crime stories into the sci-fi/fantasy genre.

Paizo proudly bills these novels on the covers as "by the author of The Empire Strikes Back," but if you read the wikipedia article I linked to above, you'll see that's not exactly true. However, reading her novels, her influence on George Lucas - an avowed fan, who writes the intro to one of the Skaith novels - is clearly evident. 

All in all, Brackett (so far) gives me a nice feeling of familiarity while I'm reading: I feel like I've been gaming these stories - or ones a lot like them, in similar settings - for 25 years. I read her with a sense of admiration and validation. In other words, it has a "yeah, that!" quality.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Roman Empire Map

 Blather sent me a link to this. He knew I'd dig it. I normally prefer a more archaic-looking map, but when viewed through the lens of gaming, this one is very useful: high resolution, easy to read, clearly marked roads and borders...everything you'd need for a campaign in the Roman Empire. Very inspiring!

Fantasy Cheese, Pt. 4: Yor, the Hunter From the Future

I'm half-embarrassed to admit it, but this movie was a pretty big influence on my developing creative mind back in 1983. Somewhere between this one, Krull, (which really doesn't deserve to be sullied by mentioning it in relation to Yor) and Saturday morning cartoon Thundarr the Barbarian, it slipped into my head that there was no reason swords and sorcery shouldn't mix with sci-fi. The "sword and laser" subgenre is an interesting one, and one anyone who games with me knows it well. Blame Yor for that, partially.

This Italian movie stars Reb Brown, yet another ex-jock-turned-geekdom-icon, who played Captain America in two late-1970s TV movies (and looks the part). I'm not sure what can be said about Yor, other than it's cheesy, and it was a LOT cooler when I was 11. Here's a trailer.

The BEST and WORST thing about this movie is the sublimely bad theme song, which is most notably audible during the opening credits. However, they also use the Queen-like fanfare, clearly derived from 1980's Flash Gordon, to punch up action scenes like this one (skip to about :58 if you like).

Are there worse movies? You bet. Is this one bad? Oh yeah. But I love it. 

Postcards from the Future. Er, Past.

I follow Space: 1889 creator Frank Chadwick's blog, and he recently featured a post about some old French postcards that depicted what life would be like in the year 2000. It's pretty cool. Check it out.