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Lofgeornost

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Well, thanks to Hoopla, I read the omnibus collection of Monstress, by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda. I can see why it won all those awards; I really enjoyed it. The best part of the story collected here (issues 1-18) was the visit to the Isle of Bones, I thought, but it was all interesting and beautifully drawn.

My one gripe was that Takeda's art, though gorgeous, is not that great (IMO) in depicting action--combats and such. I frequently found myself scratching my head a bit and staring at the page, trying to figure out exactly what was happening in fight sequences. One factor is that, very often, panels are odd rhombuses that take up only a small fraction of the page (though running from side-to-side) and also show only a segment of what is going on. Also, since a fair amount of the combat (or equivalent) involves depicting magic, magi-tech, or otherworldly monsters, it is inherently harder to figure out what is going on.

I was impressed enough that I'm seriously considering picking up the printed version of the omnibus, which is quite reasonably priced these days.
 

jay

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Currently reading The Elenium by David Eddings, Permanent Record by Edward Snowden and listening to Avatar: The Last Airbender: The Rise of Kyoshi. Also re-reading Alan Moore's Saga of Swamp Thing run.
 
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Lofgeornost

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Thanks to Hoopla (no, I'm not a Hoopla bot, but I feel like I should acknowledge the service, since I get it free), over the last several days I've read:

Mask of Circe Cover.jpg

This isn't the cover of the e-book version I have, but I posted it because (1) it's more striking and (2) it gives a better idea of what the book is about. The story was originally published in one of the pulps, Startling Stories, back in 1948. The current version lists both Kuttner and his wife, C.L. Moore, as the authors, which is no doubt the case (based on the entry in the online Encyclopedia of Science Fiction).

The book is a short (~150-page) science fantasy novel, in which the main character, Jay Seward, is drawn into an alternate world descended from ancient Greece where he finds he has a mental link with his ancestor, Jason of Golden Fleece fame, and is caught up in the conflict between Hecate and Apollo. A soft SF gloss is put on most, though not quite all, of the fantasy elements. The book is not as striking as the best of C.L. Moore's work, but I found it an enjoyable brief read. I'm mainly familiar with Kuttner as a writer of comic SF stories, but Hoopla features a number of his more fantastic works and I'm looking forward to reading more of them.
 

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A soft SF gloss is put on most, though not quite all, of the fantasy elements
Interested to know what the gloss is. Gods are aliens or an ancient civilization who had access to advanced technology?
 

Fenris-77

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Other than Mythras 2E, I just started on Carl Sagan's Pale Blue Dot (?). Pale Blue something anyway.
 

Lofgeornost

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Interested to know what the gloss is. Gods are aliens or an ancient civilization who had access to advanced technology?

There are a number of these:
  • The main character, Jay Seward, first comes into contact with Jason's memories as part of his research into 'narcosynthesis' which seems to be a fancy term for past life regression using drugs. Jay is Jason's great-to-the-eighth grandson, who has somehow inherited his ancestral memories. Jason himself was something of a split personality--the betrayer of myth and a more sympathetic figure. It's not entirely clear whether the nice side of Jason was just part of himself, or Jay Seward's consciousness somehow projected into the past (the novel waffles a bit on this). Anyway, Circe fell in love with the good side of Jason but hated the betraying personality.
  • The alternate world is another reality where things 'tend away from the norm instead of towards it.' Its 'time stream' crossed with our universe about 7,000 years ago and the two remained linked for some time, but then separated again.
  • The Olympian Gods--or most of them--were mutant humans, nearly immortal, with special mental powers who developed super-science. They went with the alternate world when the time-streams split, but then mainly retreated to a pocket-dimension they had created.
  • The mask of Circe, which you can see in the cover picture, is a super-science product; a flexible matrix containing the memories of the original Circe from thousands of years ago. When one of Hecate's priestesses wears it, Circe's consciousness takes control of her. The golden fleece is another such invention--it is basically a power-collector that provides energy to its wearer.
  • The 'gods' knew that they would eventually die and wanted to create fully immortal beings to take their place. Satyrs, centaurs, etc. were the result of their experimentation. The final product of it was an android--Apollo. In a massive war, he slew the gods, except for Hecate, who was not dwelling in the pocket dimension at the time.
 

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This isn't the cover of the e-book version I have, but I posted it because (1) it's more striking and (2) it gives a better idea of what the book is about. The story was originally published in one of the pulps, Startling Stories, back in 1948. The current version lists both Kuttner and his wife, C.L. Moore, as the authors, which is no doubt the case (based on the entry in the online Encyclopedia of Science Fiction).
Moore and Kuttner worked together on everything they wrote and just published under both of their names along with a wide array of pseudonyms. As they were so prolific, they needed the extra names so magazines could run multiple stories by them in the same issue. It's created a situation where it is hard to know who actually wrote what.
 
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Voros

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Thanks to Hoopla (no, I'm not a Hoopla bot, but I feel like I should acknowledge the service, since I get it free), over the last several days I've read:

View attachment 27637

This isn't the cover of the e-book version I have, but I posted it because (1) it's more striking and (2) it gives a better idea of what the book is about. The story was originally published in one of the pulps, Startling Stories, back in 1948. The current version lists both Kuttner and his wife, C.L. Moore, as the authors, which is no doubt the case (based on the entry in the online Encyclopedia of Science Fiction).

The book is a short (~150-page) science fantasy novel, in which the main character, Jay Seward, is drawn into an alternate world descended from ancient Greece where he finds he has a mental link with his ancestor, Jason of Golden Fleece fame, and is caught up in the conflict between Hecate and Apollo. A soft SF gloss is put on most, though not quite all, of the fantasy elements. The book is not as striking as the best of C.L. Moore's work, but I found it an enjoyable brief read. I'm mainly familiar with Kuttner as a writer of comic SF stories, but Hoopla features a number of his more fantastic works and I'm looking forward to reading more of them.

Kuttner and C.L. Moore's sf novellas are amazing but his S&S seems underrated to me as well. Some of it is an interesting combo of S&S and what we now call the Mythos, far before that became fashionable! Not sure why the OSR isn't eating those stories up?

And that sf gloss to fantasy matetial was common in the pulps at the time because sf was so much more popular and fantasy was more niche, hard to believe these days when fantasy is so dominant.
 

Lofgeornost

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Kuttner and C.L. Moore's sf novellas are amazing but his S&S seems underrated to me as well. Some of it is an interesting combo of S&S and what we now call the Mythos, far before that became fashionable! Not sure why the OSR isn't eating those stories up?

Hoopla seems to have e-books of some of Kuttner's sword-and-sorcery books: Dark World, Prince Raynor, and Elak of Atlantis. I plan to get around to them eventually. Moore also included Mythos elements in her fantasy, of course; despite its theoretical medieval French setting, most of the Jirel of Joiry stories take place in otherworlds out of Lovecraft or Clark Ashton Smith.

And that sf gloss to fantasy material was common in the pulps at the time because sf was so much more popular and fantasy was more niche, hard to believe these days when fantasy is so dominant.

I wonder what is at stake (if anything) in the distinction between softer adventure SF and fantasy, particularly from this earlier era. In both, amazing and impossible things happen that don't really fit with the laws of nature or science as they were understood at the time (or now), but they are accepted as genre appropriate. Since the underlying mechanisms are not really explained, what difference does it make whether they are fictional magic or fictional science? Yet it does make a difference to the reader and the publisher.

Over the weekend, I read another C.L. Moore and Henry Kuttner book, really a novella, on Hoopla: Earth's Last Citadel. The covers of the Diversion Books e-books are all very unimpressive, so here are some more interesting ones, beginning with the story's first appearance in Argosy in 1943.:

Earth's Last Citadel Argosy.jpg Earth's Last Citadel FN.jpg

Earth's Last Citadel Ace.jpg Earth's Last Citadel 1977.jpg

All of the covers capture something--and something different--from the story. As you can see, even in its first appearance it was credited to both Moore and Kuttner.

It's the tale of four people from our time--well, 1943--who find themselves projected into the far future by an alien. The protagonist is a U.S. Army Intelligence officer named Alan Drake; his ally is a Scots scientist, Colin Douglas, but they are accompanied into the future by two Nazis of American extraction: Karen Martin and Mike Smith. I'm not really sure why Martin was included in the novel (she does relatively little after the first chapter,) but Smith has an important role in the plot.

The main attraction for me was the future world; I'm a sucker for Dying Earth stories or their equivalents. This one was not as interesting as I had hoped. There are elements reminiscent of Wells' The Time Machine. The future has two human-descended races, one Eloi-like in its beauty and apparent helplessness--you can see the Weena equivalent, here called Evaya, in the second cover--and another more barbaric, though not inhuman as the Morlocks are. But this setup is nicely complicated by the presence of the Alien, who brings our travelers into the far future, and is a considerable menace. So the plot is fine for this sort of story.

The world, though, is not as fully realized or described as I had hoped. There is the brooding last citadel of the aliens, and a fairy-like last city of the Eloi-equivalents, called Cascadilla. But neither is depicted in all that much depth or detail. Moore really excelled in that sort of description--in fact, many of the Jirel stories are mostly description of strange environments--so I was hoping for more of it. Maybe the place of publication had an influence there; my impression is that Argosy was less given to really weird tales than some other magazines of the period. It wasn't mainly an outlet for SF or fantasy.

There were some parts of the story where that sense of the weird or amazing did come through. One of the minor characters is a future human named Flande, who has extensive psychic powers and dwells in the science-fantasy equivalent of a wizard's tower. And there is one small detail of this Dying Earth that I found very evocative. The moon's orbital radius has decreased (as it in fact will) so it is much closer to the mainly dried-out Earth. The surviving oceans have formed a sort of Grand Canyon that circles the entire globe, and the water rushes along it in accord with the (greatly increased) tides.

If I remember my basic physics, as the moon approaches, the Earth's diurnal period will increase, so that angular momentum is conserved. There's no hint in the novel that days are longer in the far future, though since almost all the action happens in underground cities or spaces, I suppose one could not tell.
 

Voros

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Yeah sometimes the sf frame is so obviously bolted on you gotta wonder why they bothered, it had to be at the insistence of the editor one would have to think.

The clearest example of this is in Fletcher Pratt's masterpiece The Blue Star, which opens with a frame of some scientists discussing a possible parallel world where psionics/magic works and then shifts into what is clearly the novel proper. And if I remember right when the novel comes to its ambigious close there is no return to the supposed frame!
 

Séadna

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Yeah sometimes the sf frame is so obviously bolted on you gotta wonder why they bothered, it had to be at the insistence of the editor one would have to think.

The clearest example of this is in Fletcher Pratt's masterpiece The Blue Star, which opens with a frame of some scientists discussing a possible parallel world where psionics/magic works and then shifts into what is clearly the novel proper. And if I remember right when the novel comes to its ambigious close there is no return to the supposed frame!
I read somewhere that the reason psionics are in so much SciFi was because the editor of Wierd Tales or some similar magazine believed in psychic abilities and required some stories to have psychic boiler plate stuff. Does this ring a bell with anybody? If not I must hunt down where I read it.
 

Stan

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John W. Campell who ran Astounding.

I recently read a book Astounding, which charted the lives of Campbell, Asimov, Heinlein, and Hubbard. Campbell was an early advocate of Dianetics.
 

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I read somewhere that the reason psionics are in so much SciFi was because the editor of Wierd Tales or some similar magazine believed in psychic abilities and required some stories to have psychic boiler plate stuff. Does this ring a bell with anybody? If not I must hunt down where I read it.
It was John W. Campbell, edit of Astounding (which was Analog by the time I came along). He had rules about science-fiction by the '50s. If you wanted to get published by him, you had to write science-fiction that portrayed a positive future where humanity was evolving setting its differences aside, and problems usually came from aliens and space anomalies. Putting psychic powers in your stories wasn't essential, but if you had them as sign of Mankind's continuing evolution, it really helped your chances of selling your story to him. His brand of science fiction was a clear influence on Star Trek.

He also worked heavily with Hubbard on developing Scientology and was an outspoken advocate of segregation.

Authors with a more "negative" perspective like Philip K. Dick had little chance with him. They had to turn to Anthony Boucher and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science-Fiction. Science-fiction writers that cared about science, like Asimov, also had a troubled relationship with him.
 

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I'm reading the two most recent Incryptid stories by Seanan McGuire. Hoping for a happy-ish ending but talking to her (about why I like spoilers) I'm getting the feeling it's not in the cards. Sighs.
 

Lofgeornost

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Yeah sometimes the sf frame is so obviously bolted on you gotta wonder why they bothered, it had to be at the insistence of the editor one would have to think.

The clearest example of this is in Fletcher Pratt's masterpiece The Blue Star, which opens with a frame of some scientists discussing a possible parallel world where psionics/magic works and then shifts into what is clearly the novel proper. And if I remember right when the novel comes to its ambigious close there is no return to the supposed frame!

I need to reread that one, and also his Well of the Unicorn; I think I read them both long ago but have only the haziest recollection of them.

I recently read a book Astounding, which charted the lives of Campbell, Asimov, Heinlein, and Hubbard. Campbell was an early advocate of Dianetics.

What did you think of it? I've been meaning to pick it up.

So, thanks to Hoopla, I've also read some other comics lately, including Erekose: The Swords of Heaven, the Flowers of Hell. This originally appeared in the late 1970s but has recently been reissued. The script (or outline, I'm not entirely clear) was written by Moorcock, but Howard Chaykin is responsible for the comic. The story comes between the second and third John Daker/Erekose novels--the third, The Dragon in the Sword, had not been written at this point, I think.

It's enjoyable, if rather slight, Moorcock. As usual, John Daker finds himself in yet another incarnation of the Eternal Champion, this time Clen of Clen Gar, who defends the Dream Marches between Hell and Heaven from Hellish onslaughts. The names 'Heaven' and 'Hell' have relatively little to do with the realities of either place--they are regions inhabited by human beings, not dead souls, though Hell is a much more difficult environment peopled by barbaric tribes, while Heaven is physically more pleasant while morally decadent. One amusing touch is that the other paladins of the Dream Marches are named after characters from Comedia dell' Arte.

The main attraction is Chaykin's art, which as Moorcock points out in his introduction, is deliberately reminiscent of the 'golden age' of illustration. The hero is obviously modeled on Burt Lancaster and his love-interest on Sophia Loren. Moorcock's introduction is also interesting, in part for the sheer hubris of it.
 

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What did you think of it? I've been meaning to pick it up.

It's pretty good. It covers the childhoods onward of the four main subjects. It makes no attempt to paint a rosy picture of any of them. It mentions dozens of other authors of the 30s through the 50s and covers early fandom some as well. Despite their flaws, they managed to accomplish things in fiction.

It portrays Hubbard as a constant liar who some people believed. For example, he told people of his WWII exploits when he was actually a complete screwup and his battle wound was actually from falling down a ladder.
 

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It was John W. Campbell, edit of Astounding (which was Analog by the time I came along). He had rules about science-fiction by the '50s. If you wanted to get published by him, you had to write science-fiction that portrayed a positive future where humanity was evolving setting its differences aside, and problems usually came from aliens and space anomalies. Putting psychic powers in your stories wasn't essential, but if you had them as sign of Mankind's continuing evolution, it really helped your chances of selling your story to him. His brand of science fiction was a clear influence on Star Trek.

He also worked heavily with Hubbard on developing Scientology and was an outspoken advocate of segregation.

Authors with a more "negative" perspective like Philip K. Dick had little chance with him. They had to turn to Anthony Boucher and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science-Fiction. Science-fiction writers that cared about science, like Asimov, also had a troubled relationship with him.

Alfred Bester wrote a hilarious essay about dealing with Campbell during his Dianetics years. I'm not a big fan of Campbell as an editor (except for Unknown, what a great mag that was!) but he did write one stone cold pulp classic in 'Who Goes There?' later turned into the Thing from Outer Space by Hawks and The Thing by Carpenter.
 

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Alfred Bester wrote a hilarious essay about dealing with Campbell during his Dianetics years. I'm not a big fan of Campbell as an editor (except for Unknown, what a great mag that was!) but he did write one stone cold pulp classic in 'Who Goes There?' later turned into the Thing from Outer Space by Hawks and The Thing by Carpenter.
No question about that.
 

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Alfred Bester wrote a hilarious essay about dealing with Campbell during his Dianetics years. I'm not a big fan of Campbell as an editor (except for Unknown, what a great mag that was!) but he did write one stone cold pulp classic in 'Who Goes There?' later turned into the Thing from Outer Space by Hawks and The Thing by Carpenter.

Have you heard about Frozen Hell? Turns out Who Goes There was trimmed down from a full novel Campbell wrote. Wildside Press did a kickstarter for it (which included an anthology of short stories called Short Things), and there is going to be sequels written for the novel in the future.
 

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Have you heard about Frozen Hell? Turns out Who Goes There was trimmed down from a full novel Campbell wrote. Wildside Press did a kickstarter for it (which included an anthology of short stories called Short Things), and there is going to be sequels written for the novel in the future.
There is also The Things by Peter Watts, which is the The Thing told from the perspective of the monster.
 

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I'm reading the two most recent Incryptid stories by Seanan McGuire. Hoping for a happy-ish ending but talking to her (about why I like spoilers) I'm getting the feeling it's not in the cards. Sighs.
I finished Calculated Risks the other day. The ending was happy-ish but I fear for future books building on the ramifications of what's happened and been done. I wonder which character will get center stage next.
 

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This morning over coffee I finished Darrell Schweitzer's Tom O'Bedlam's Night Out (1985).

Tom O'Bedlam's Night Out-smaller.jpg It's long out of print, but I was able to buy a fairly cheap used hardback, signed by Schweitzer himself, and with a handwritten correction to the dedication page. So that was neat. It's a collection of some of his early fantasy short stories, published between c. 1977 and 1985 in a variety of magazines and fanzines, as well as some written specifically for this volume. There are atmospheric internal drawings by Stephen Fabian. The only thing that is slightly disappointing is the type-face, which is reminiscent of computer printers of that era.

I really enjoy Schweitzer's work; I only started reading him in the last few months. These stories are perhaps not as polished as some of the ones in his later Echoes of the Goddess, but still very readable. The first three focus on Tom O'Bedlam himself and employ some of the elements of his 'Song,' like the horse of air and burning spear. Their tone, though, is wry rather than manic. The book has some other fine tales, often with a fairy-tale-like feel. I particularly liked one about the ghost of Nero.
 

Lofgeornost

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Thanks to Hoopla, I've finished Liu and Takeda's Monstress, through issue 30 (the collection Warchild). I am still enjoying it, though I'll admit to some fear that the story is so large, and moving slowly enough, that it will never be finished. After all, one of the major players in world, and in the main character's life, is not really introduced until issue 19 or later. In a sense it doesn't matter whether the story is ever finished or not. But one of the main attractions of the series--and something it spends a good deal of time on--is exploring the underlying mysteries of the setting, some dating back thousands of years. I may not care that much if the main character's tale ever reaches its conclusion, but I would be disappointed if we don't find out the solution of those mysteries.

As often with this sort of fiction, I find myself wondering if you could make a game out Monstress, and what sort of game it would be. Some elements of the set-up seem imminently gameable--for example, the Arcanics with their special abilities seem tailor-made for gaming. Likewise, some elements of the world are familiar enough that it would be fairly easy to run with them, even without knowing more than the comics have revealed. So the basic geography and nature of the main continent, which is kind-of Eurasia, would be easy to deal with, as would the nomenclature, which is familiar. Likewise, the idea of rival Arcanic 'courts' is a well-known trope (just insert Faerie for Arcanic). The Cumaea are a combination of warrior-nuns, witches, and mad scientists. And so on.

On the other hand, the series focuses so tightly on the 'top people' of this world and its big underlying mysteries that it might be hard to come up with something all that interesting for p.c.s to do in the setting. I would say that it is too tightly tied to this story arc. As a rule of thumb, I'd say that episodic fiction, and stories that focus on more 'standard' characters instead of the outstanding world-beaters, are easier to adapt into RPGs.
 
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Lofgeornost

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Yesterday night before bed I finished the first half of Tanith Lee's Companions on the Road. I picked it up because I'd seen it mentioned in an essay on sword and sorcery fiction and also because Voros Voros posted something recently about Lee being an underappreciated writer. I realized I'd never read any of her books except for Sung in Shadow, so I thought I should broaden my horizons.

The book is actually a collection of two novellas, "Companions on the Road," and "The Winter Players." The first I think you could definitely label sword and sorcery, or maybe fantasy horror. Three men--two soldiers and a thief--loot a golden chalice from the fallen citadel of a dark magician and then have to deal with the consequences. It's quite good: spare prose, fine imagery, and a satisfying conclusion. I'm looking forward to reading the second novella.

It has some interesting covers, but that's for another thread.
 

Lofgeornost

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This is damn good so far, excellent background on fashion and the associated social codes among the noble and merchant classes for your historical or fantasy games.

View attachment 28701
That looks very interesting and a rather new direction for Ford, compared to his earlier books.

I liked Ulinka Rublack's Dressing Up, though it has a considerably more limited scope:
9780199645183.jpg
 

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I’m currently reading The Dark Lord of Oklahoma, a book which had two very different descriptive blurbs about it on the net. I keep putting it down for various reasons, from typos to an odd bit about wearing surgical masks in public that felt a bit weird to read after 2020.

I stepped away from it again last night after, in a span of a few pages, two of the characters come off as though poor people are scary, and one of the main characters decides hallucinations are no reason to call in sick; and she has a car accident because of it. These are all characters I believe we’re to care about.

i feel like this is going to turn into The Blair Witch Project, where I found the main characters were so unlikeable to me I wanted to slip the witch a $20 to get rid of them faster.
 

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Finished reading Ernie Pyle's Brave Men last night. I don't usually like books written too contemporaneously - I think you need about 100 years to get perspective - but Pyle's book is really more a collection of anecdotes rather than an analysis of the war. Little stories that happened all over Europe. And I appreciated that he spent time with so many different groups - infantry, tanks, artillery, bombers, engineers, medics, everyone gets to tell their story here. Highly recommended for anyone interested in the common soldier.
1616763133687.png
 

Lofgeornost

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Over the weekend, I had a chance to finish Tanith Lee's Companions on the Road. If anything, I thought the second novella, "The Winter Players," was even stronger than the first. For one thing, the protagonist, a young priestess/witch, is much more active than the soldier in the first story. The novella has some good world-building, a very creepy evil magician, and an interesting plot. There's just one loose end, but it's a minor one. I won't say more, since it's a plot-driven story and I want to avoid spoilers. But I recommend the book.

I read Companions on the Road in paperback, but thanks to Hoopla I was also able to read Henry Kuttner's Prince Raynor as an e-book. This is a collection of two stories featuring the title character that Kuttner published back in the 1930s. They are set in what I guess might be Kuttner's answer to Howard's Hyborian Age--the era of the Imperial Gobi, when civilizations from that region dominated Eurasia. I wonder if Kuttner picked the Gobi Desert because it had been in the news in the 1920s as a result of Roy Chapman Andrews' fossil-hunting expeditions? In any case, Kuttner's Gobi does not have much to do with the region as it exists today--the setting is a fairly straightforward sword-and-sorcery one, enlivened by some borrowings from Ancient Mesopotamia.

The stories were good, if not as intriguing (to me, anyway) as Lee's work. Prince Raynor is a fairly standard stalwart hero, whose kingdom is destroyed at the beginning of the first story. He has a Nubian warrior as his sidekick and ends up with a love interest. There is some cool imagery at points, and Kuttner is interested enough in his villains to give them fairly extensive backstories and scenes without the hero, which is a nice touch.
 

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Thanks to Hoopla, I've also read over the last couple of weeks the run of Spellbound, by Jean Dufaux and Jose Luis Munuera, published in translation by Europe Comics. It is only 4 issues in all, of about 60 pages each. The story concerns a medieval-ish kingdom, Middleland, and the struggles of its heir Blanche to assume the throne after her father's death. There is a fair amount of skullduggery and magic--a witch casts a curse early in the first issue, which sets up a love affair between Blanche and Maldoror, the 'lord of the world below' (which is PG-13 Hell, so to speak). It's an enjoyable enough romp, and the art is nice, but both the story and the drawing are very Disneyesque in some ways. The demons from 'the world below' are played almost entirely for laughs, for instance. Oddly, the series is rated M for mature, I would guess from a little soft-core lovemaking depicted in a few frames.
 

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Have the day off between stopping at one workplace and starting at another so I went for a stroll to my favourite local bookshop that I haven't been to in 5 years and picked these two up and now I'm at a pub patio to enjoy.

The Bresson is a filmnerd classic that I read way back in university while studying film and I have wanted a copy ever since but it was both rare and expensive. Happily it has been recently reissued by New York Review of Books.

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Cthulhu Mythos - Available Now @ DriveThruRPG.com
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