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Fenris-77

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When you say “purple” are you refering to misogyny and racism or did I guess completely wrong?
Well, there's that, and also the tendency to throw adjectives and adverbs around like machinegun fire. Like comparing Doc at rest to a bronze statue of a god in half page detail. Call it standard pulp writing really, but at the extreme end of the spectrum.
 

Ronnie Sanford

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Well, there's that, and also the tendency to throw adjectives and adverbs around like machinegun fire. Like comparing Doc at rest to a bronze statue of a god in half page detail. Call it standard pulp writing really, but at the extreme end of the spectrum.
You know apparently Doc Savage was pretty popular until the seventies. I think I will try one out so I won’t be a pulp newbie anymore.
 

Lofgeornost

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Some more of Planet Stories, this time the January 1951 issue. It has two Poul Anderson stories, though the first is credited to A. A. Craig, which I guess was a house name, used in this case to avoid listing the same author twice in the table of contents.

That first story, "Witch of the Demon Seas," is another sword-and-planet venture, and maybe the best of the Anderson stories along that line I've read recently. It is probably set on Venus, since it is a watery world (though not swampy) under a sky that almost never clears--and when it does, the sunlight is murderous. It involves a captured pirate from a not-Gaul culture, who accompanies a sorcerer and his grand-daughter (the titular witch) on a mission to a mysterious civilization of amphibious reptile-men. The pacing is good and the action scenes well-described. Even the obligatory romance is a bit easier to swallow because it can in part be attributed to magic, which the story (in typical form) explains away as mental powers of illusion.

There is not a lot of world-building in the tale, though what there is proves sturdy enough. As often, Anderson drew on Earth analogues for his culture--the main power is the Achaeran thalassocracy ruled from the city of Tauros, but the hero is from a semi-Celtic culture and there are mentions of "fur-clad barbarians from Norriki, and blue-skinned savages from Umlotu." There is also a pet gryphon-like creature called an erinye. By chance, Algis Budrys wrote a letter to the May issue complaining about the story's borrowings, only to be answered by 'A.A. Craig' in later letter column. In his reply, 'Craig' cited Poul Anderson as an example of an author borrowing names and words from historic cultures!

Ironically enough, Budrys' letter praised Anderson's other story in the January issue, "Tiger by the Tale." This is, I'd guess, the very first story featuring Anderson's hero Dominic Flandry. If so, the basic mold of the character was set from the beginning; he is a Bond-like secret agent defending a decadent Earth Empire from its inevitable fall to barbarians, which will bring the Long Night. In this tale, Flandry is abducted by a race of humanoid barbarians from beyond the imperial borders who intend to invade. Most of story concerns his machinations to defeat their plans, told in short vignettes. The obligatory romance is more believable than it might be because, for Flandry, it is all part of his scheme.

The clear analogue is the Late Roman Empire and the Germanic (and other) barbarians, and Anderson even borrows trappings of their cultures to push this home. So the barbarian court is a a great hall, and their conquering king, a sort of interstellar Bretwalda, is even named Penda. Thematically this makes sense, but it strains credulity to believe that these barbarian worlds could rise up from iron-age to space-age technologies in a few generations simply by emulation of imperial technology and culture. If the aliens, called the Scothani, had been presented as already at industrial-age tech before their contact with the empire, this might be more plausible.
 

Lofgeornost

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I've read some more in the pulp magazines available through the Internet Archive. I happened on both stories as a result of posting in 'Covers' thread, so I'll include the covers here as well:

Weird_Tales_v41n05_1949-07_LPM-AT-SAS_0000.jpg planet_stories_1954win.jpg

The first is Frederic Brown's "Come and Go Mad," from the July 1949 Weird Tales. I assumed it would have something to do with the odd image on the cover. In fact, the story doesn't--nor does any story in the issue, as far as I can tell. "Come and Go Mad" starts pretty effectively. A reporter agrees to get committed to an asylum to check on strange events there, but the circumstances leave us unsure as to whether he is sane or insane, and whether or not his commitment is a ruse to get him treatment. Unfortunately, the final payoff is quite weak.

"The Teleportress of Alpha C," from the Winter 1954 Planet Stories I read simply because it was by Leigh Brackett (and has a great Freas cover). It concerns the first human settlement on Alpha Centauri, which is made by people in a ramshackle spaceship fleeing a tyrannical regime on Earth. It's a fairly good yarn, though not up to the best of Brackett's productions. Both the title and the cover image are somewhat misleading, but I won't say more for fear of spoilers.
 

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Over the last few days, I've been reading Cyrion (1982) by Tanith Lee. It doesn't seem to be in print here in the U.S., but I was able to pick up a used paperback for a reasonable price thanks to Amazon Marketplace. It's a 'fix-up,' that is, a book made by collecting stories. The first 5 of these were previously published in various places c. 1979-80; the last two, including a novella that takes up roughly a third of the book, were written for this collection. They are linked together by a series of introductions and 'interlogues' in which a hapless young man named Roilant seeks the titular Cyrion at an inn and hears stories of his exploits from various customers. He meet up with Cyrion at last and recruits his help with his own problem, which is explored in the final novella.

I found the stories intriguing. This is a sword-and-sorcery book, in some respects, but in others it is much closer to, well, Sherlock Holmes. Each of the tales revolves around some central mystery or problem that Cyrion has to solve or confront and he does this as much or more through careful observation and reasoning as through action (though there is some of that as well). Cyrion himself remains something of an enigma, like Holmes: he is a master of certain occult abilities, a skilled swordsman and even better athlete, highly intelligent, and supernally handsome, though (like Holmes) he is also master of disguise. But for the most part the emotional core of the stories--the drama, if you like--rests with the other characters; Cyrion is there (like Holmes) to resolve the problem but is mostly aloof from it. Also, as in the Holmes' stories, these are not exactly 'puzzle' mysteries, in that we readers are not really given all the clues or necessary information--Cyrion sees, and knows, things we do not find out until the revelation at the end.

The setting is the Crusader kingdom of Jerusalem, but with the serial numbers filed off. Towns are in the same places, but with slightly different names: Heruzala for Jerusalem, Cassireia for Caesarea, Teboras for Tiberias, etc. The kingdom is ruled by conquerors from the West, and the Knights of the Dove are Templar-equivalents, and so on. There are some hints of alt-history as well; in this world Jesus apparently was not crucified because the people demanded he be spared, but lived to become a key prophet, and the Christian/Islamic split seems to have been replaced by one over interpretations of his teachings. In a nice pun, the not-Romans are the Remusans. At first I wondered why not simply use the real locations, but I think this setting functions for Lee rather like Howard's Hyborian Age--it allows her to draw on her readers' knowledge and stereotypes of the medieval Middle East without worrying about historical accuracy and it allows her to insert whatever elements she wishes into the mix. Her not-Templars, the Order of the Dove, for instance, incorporates also some elements of legends about the assassins.

Oddly, I found the final novella, which was written for the book, one of the weaker parts of it. The plot seemed to drag a bit, compared to the much more focused short stories, and Cyrion was ultimately fairly peripheral to much of what happens in the tale. In fact, I found myself wondering if Lee had first drafted the story without the figure of Cyrion, and then rewritten it with him inserted to fit the collection.

I'll post some covers for the book in the appropriate thread. Here is the map of the region, to show its replication of real-world geography:
cyrion3.jpg
 

Lofgeornost

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Over the weekend I read Henry Kuttner's The Time Trap (1938), in an ebook edition courtesy of Hoopla. It's really of novella length, though here published as a stand-alone volume. The book begins with its hero, the archaeologist Mason Kent, lost in the Arabian desert, where he stumbles upon a lost city famed for its super-science. The story is intensely plot-driven--there's not a lot of characterization or description, really--so I won't say much more for fear of spoiling it. Suffice it to say that it involves time-travel, a nefarious genius from the future (called the Master), animal-men borrowed from The Island of Dr. Moreau, and much else. The pacing is break-neck and there are some interesting ideas and bits of invention in it, though none are developed in much depth. One part of it reminded me a good deal of a Miles Vorkosigan short story, so much so that I wondered if Bujold was consciously riffing on it. Probably not. In any case, it was an enjoyable bit of 'mind-candy,' though not as good, say, as Earth's Last Citadel (with which it shares some elements), The Mask of Circe or The Dark World.

I'll post some covers for it in the appropriate thread.
 

Lofgeornost

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I read "The Robot Men of Bubble City" by Rog Phillips (pen name of Roger Phillip Graham) from Fantastic Adventures, July 1949, mainly because it is the source of my new avatar. I don't think I've read anything by Phillips before; he was very active as an author and in SF fandom during the later 1940s and 1950s. His entry in the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction suggests that he wrote some good stories:

A sequence of pioneering singleton stories in Imagination, notably "The Lost Ego" (January 1953), "Repeat Performance" (December 1953) and The Cosmic Junkman (January 1954), creatively explored themes and techniques later used more memorably by Philip K Dick and Robert Bloch.

If so, then I'd guess that this is one of his lesser works. It has some nice ideas and touches in it, but the prose is pretty amateurish, especially when it comes to some of the dialogue. There is also, from my perspective at least, a somewhat odd juxtaposition between the entirely implausible and pseudo-scientific explanations of things that the author might have hand-waived. So, for instance, our heroes at the beginning of the story are asteroid miners who struck it rich and "neatly dropped" 3 million tons of pure copper and 1 1/2 million tons of pure silver into the Arizona desert (you can imagine the crater that would result). But to explain how the intelligences that guide the Robot Men can maintain instantaneous contact with them across vast distances, we get a couple of paragraphs explaining why telepathic impulses "travel through the ether at the square root of the mean square velocity of the ether particles, which is about 200 billion miles a second."
 

Lofgeornost

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Because I've been thinking about 'Old Mars' as an RPG setting lately, I've re-read Burroughs' A Fighting Man of Mars over the last few days. I read all the Barsoom series when I was a teenager, and I re-read the initial trilogy and Chessmen of Mars (one of my favorites) when the John Carter movie came out, but I've not looked at the other volumes in decades. I found I had more-or-less completely forgotten this one, except for the name of one of the villains: Ghron of Ghasta.

As usual in the Barsoom series, a young woman (in this case named Sanoma Tora) is kidnapped and the hero has to find and rescue her. Our doughty protagonist this time is a young Barsoomian noble, Tan Hadron of Hastor, a junior officer in Helium's forces. He embarks an odyssey to find Sanoma, dealing with white apes, green men, giant spiders, cannibals, captivity in several different Martian cities, and passage along a subterranean river. He also becomes aware of a sinister plot to rule all Barsoom and strange new technologies, including rays that dissolve ships, and invisibility.

So, you might say, business as usual. Fighting Man of Mars, though, is rather different than some of the Barsoom stories in that our hero encounters a young woman, named Tavia, who proves to be his equal as a warrior. He does have to rescue her few times (this is Burroughs' novel, after all) but she fights alongside him and saves his life on occasion. Whether a romance develops between them I will leave to your imagination.

Later Barsoom novels like this one, which do not star John Carter, often do not show the intense inventiveness on display in A Princess of Mars. By this time, Barsoom is an established setting and, though novels will add some new features, they don't have to depict an entirely new world as that book did. On the other hand, Burroughs did develop skills in plotting and pacing over the years; the end of A Princess of Mars reads almost like an outline rather than a story. I also like having Martians rather than John Carter as the hero, since he is such a superman-figure.
 

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Right now, I'm trying to read the last two Heartstrikers books (There vaguely but not quite a future world that has powerful dragons and spirits, and have a feel of Shadowrun without quite being as gritty in the same way, I forgot why I didn't finish this one before and had to go back to the previous book to see--yep they killed off one of my favorite characters, but she's sort of a ghost doing stuff that looks to be important in the long run.) Still, it's about dragon's notably the Heartstrikers are American dragons, going back to when magic faded--they're descendants of Quetzalcoatl.
 

Lofgeornost

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Over the weekend, I had some time for more reading in the old pulps. I read "The Eye of Tandyla," a short story in L. Sprague De Camp's Pusadian series, which appeared in Fantastic Adventures, May 1951. I read the main entry in the series, his novel The Tritonian Ring, ages ago, but the stories have never been collected and are not easy to find. This one was amusing, involving a sorcerer sent to steal a jeweled eye from an idol, though I thought the mannered dialogue that De Camp used didn't quite work.

I also read another Kuttner novella, "Lands of the Earthquake," from the May 1947 Startling Stories. I'd stumbled upon it and was surprised at its quality; it's as good as The Mask of Circe and The Dark World--and I think I may have enjoyed it more than the latter. A modern scholar, William Boyce, finds a year of his life missing to amnesia. Searching for clues, he stumbles into a strange magical world, where he finds refuge in a castle inhabited by Normans from the First Crusade. The castle's inhabitants are locked in an extended struggle with a strange 'city of sorcery' across the valley. Boyce of course gets caught up in the struggle, though in some ways he is a minor player in it.

The pace of the novella is less headlong than some of Kuttner's other works, leaving a bit more space for description and characterization. The otherworld is spooky and intriguing--constantly cloaked in mist with no sky visible, but always day. Time flows differently there, or in a sense does not flow at all--people never age and cannot keep an accurate reckoning of time's passage. The geography, though, does move--the floor of the valley constantly flows past the hills on its side, carrying new lands into view. There is magic (without as much of the scientific explaining-away one gets in other Kuttner offerings) and strange alien horrors. As seems usual for Kuttner, there is a femme fatale in the story, but she is better rendered and more interesting than some of his attempts in this direction. There is of course a romance, but it does not seem tacked on (as often in these tales) because it developed during Boyce's lost year.

Doubling/splitting of individuals and personalities plays an important role in the novella. That also seems to be one of Kuttner's favorite themes. It shows up in The Dark World and in The Mask of Circe, for instance. Here, though, there are two sets of doubles (or perhaps three, depending on how you count) and the relationships between two of them are keys to the tale.

If anyone is interested, you can read the story through the Pulp Magazine collection at the Internet Archive for free: https://archive.org/details/Startling_Stories_v15n02_1947.05_-_jpg
 

Voros

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Sounds great, has it been collected anywhere? I have a number of Kuttner and Moore anthologies but this title doesn't ring a bell.
 

Lofgeornost

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Sounds great, has it been collected anywhere? I have a number of Kuttner and Moore anthologies but this title doesn't ring a bell.
It was republished in Pulp Vault, May 1992, but that's probably harder to get one's hands on today than the original publication. DMR books reprinted it in 2017 as a 'double' with Howie Bentley's Under a Blue Star. Faded Page, the Canadian free ebook publisher also has it at https://www.fadedpage.com/showbook.php?pid=20171009
 

zanshin

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Been reading a new author to me , Sean Cunningham, on kindle. Finished his first novel, Ghost Electricity.

Modern urban fantasy set in a mystic London. Dry sense of humour - if you think Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman meets Harry Dresden by way of the TV show Being Human that gives you a good idea of the flavour. As I enjoy all those things I am in luck. Recommended.

Amazon product
 

Raleel

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Terran Trade Authority Spacecraft 2000 - 2100 AD which I had when I was a kid and inspired my imagination with all of the art. There is a 40th anniversary edition on DTRPG. Not quite he same as the original, but the art is largely there. Inspiring me on to a sci fi game.

also The Coming Race, which is informing my mad scientist superhero for the current cortex game.
 

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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.
I understand that. I've wanted a happy ending for a certain character for a long time.
 

Lofgeornost

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I just finished God Emperor of Dune.
About half way through the book I had a sort of click, and now I can't help but see Dune's influence in a lot of modern media. Star Wars is a good example, but also Morrowind and even Star Trek.

I ought to reread Dune someday; I read the first four or so novels a long time ago, but in one of my periodic purges of books sold all but the first volume.

I can see the Star Wars connection and Morrowind (so Google informs me) is from a computer game I never played, but I'm not sure I see much Dune influence in Star Trek (or course, I guess it might depend on which Star Trek). What did you have in mind?
 

Giganotosaurus

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I ought to reread Dune someday; I read the first four or so novels a long time ago, but in one of my periodic purges of books sold all but the first volume.

I can see the Star Wars connection and Morrowind (so Google informs me) is from a computer game I never played, but I'm not sure I see much Dune influence in Star Trek (or course, I guess it might depend on which Star Trek). What did you have in mind?
The mysticism in Bajor being derived from a advanced races of energy beings living in a wormhole, feels a lot like the Bene Gesserit seeding religions on another planet.
 

Lofgeornost

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The mysticism in Bajor being derived from a advanced races of energy beings living in a wormhole, feels a lot like the Bene Gesserit seeding religions on another planet.
That's interesting. I'd always taken it more as a development from inside the logic of the Star Trek setting, which is in general fairly hostile to religion--except for the Klingons, it's often portrayed as (1) a misunderstanding of natural phenomena or (2) a mechanism of social control. These are standard Enlightenment critiques of religion, of course, and found in a lot of science fiction (e.g. Edgar Rice Burroughs). I assumed that the creators of Deep Space Nine decided they wanted to provide a more positive portrayal of religion, but needed to fit it into a matrix where their materialist characters from the Federation could interact with it. So we get a 'scientific' explanation of Bajoran religion (aliens not bound by linear time inside a wormhole) that gives the Prophets the powers that Bajorans attribute to them.
 

Voros

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One of the advantages of being back working on a campus is I have access to the library and with electronic sources now that now even more comprehensive than previously. While listening to this talk by Isaiah Berlin he quotes and briefly discussed the historian Jakob Burckhardt which intrigued me so I grabbed this for a read, apparently an influence on Nietzsche's 'The Use and Abuse of History.'

9781138169333.jpg
 

Lofgeornost

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One of the advantages of being back working on a campus is I have access to the library and with electronic sources now that now even more comprehensive than previously. While listening to this talk by Isaiah Berlin he quotes and briefly discussed the historian Jakob Burckhardt which intrigued me so I grabbed this for a read, apparently an influence on Nietzsche's 'The Use and Abuse of History.'

View attachment 30477

I've never read that, though I did read Burkhardt's Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy back in college, and a chapter on him in Peter Gay's Style in History, which I remember liking.

I'm going to post about something I'm not reading. Browsing through the Europe Comics line on Hoopla, I encountered Sword Master, by Xavier Dorison, originally published in 2015. It seemed to be about, well, a 16th-century master-at-arms, which sounded neat. But the introduction started alarm bells ringing:
Imagine Western Civilization as if all life, thought, and death were filtered through a single prism: God. The Bible was the law, the one and only explanation of the natural world, and it legitimized the enslavement of a great many by the very few. For more than a thousand years, nothing seemed able to call this imbalance of power into question.
Ouch! The myths and errors are flying thick and fast here.
  • The Bible was the law? All the secular lawyers in Europe in the early 1500s would have been quite surprised to learn that, I think. Canon lawyers, too, if it came to that--they would certainly accept the Bible's authority, but you didn't get a degree in canon law by studying Scripture. Ironically, the idea of the Bible as law reflects far more a Reformation perspective, particularly among the more 'fringe' elements of the movement, like the Anabaptists.
  • The Bible endorsed the 'enslavement of the great many by the very few?' Presumably this means some sort of metaphorical slavery, since the majority of Europeans were slaves in no era, and particularly not c. 1500, when slaves were rare or absent across most of the continent. I'd guess this means nothing more than the use of the Bible to justify the authority of monarchs and institutional churches--but that again grew stronger after the Reformation, in the era of confessionalization, as it is often known.
Things got worse on the first page of the comic:
1531, in these uncertain times medieval darkness attempts to snuff out the first glimmers of the Renaissance. A new world will be born… or die in its cradle!

Vesalius’ anatomies, Aristotle’s writings, Gutenberg’s press, or the flaming pyres of the obscurantists… which will triumph? No one knows.

1531 is the 'first glimmers of the Renaissance' a movement that has been underway in Italy for more than a century before this? Even in France that is at least a generation too late. Also (unless the translation is bad) Dorison is lumping Aristotle together with Vesalius and Gutenberg as part of the Renaissance, opposed to the 'flaming pyres of the obscurantists.' But Aristotle had been studied in medieval universities since the late twelfth century, and Renaissance humanism was in part a reaction against scholastic philosophy based on Aristotle.

Since hope springs semi-eternal, I kept going for a bit, through a fairly interesting fight sequence, but then hit my limit when the main character, who has become an 'enforcer' for a local priest, does not (as ordered) break the arm of a man who is behind on paying tithes, only to be told by the priest "of what use is a man's tithe if he no longer fears me?" Our hero is then told to roast the feet of another delinquent over the fire...

Needless to say, none of this has much if any connection to historical reality. It's basically a restaging of 'black legend' anti-Catholic propaganda from the 16th and 17th centuries. (There was of course a similar set of anti-Protestant stereotypes and legends used by Catholic propagandists). I find it surprising that it is being recycled, apparently as truth, in 2015. A century or two ago, it would be pretty standard, part of ongoing confessional conflicts between Protestants and Catholics, or of Enlightenment hostility to organized religion of any stripe. But I suspect that neither of those things are in play here.

Instead, I'd guess that Dorison has picked up this mythic version of the past and run with it because it makes for simpler storytelling. We have a straightforward conflict between good and evil, in which the villains are quite despicable, leading toward the victory of good and the triumph of the modern world. It's more evocative to have the local priest acting like a mob boss and ordering limbs to be broken rather than having him haul delinquents into court for failure to pay. Or get drunk, or charge extra fees for services, or refuse to pay local taxes, or other things that were more normal complaints about clergy. But, to me at least, it's rather like someone deciding to do a comic about the American Revolution and deciding: 'Screw all the political and moral complexity of the situation! Let's base George Washington on the stories in Parson Weems' biography. So he'll be a paragon who never tells a lie and is constantly chopping down cherry trees...'
 

Voros

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I've never read that, though I did read Burkhardt's Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy back in college, and a chapter on him in Peter Gay's Style in History, which I remember liking.

I'm going to post about something I'm not reading. Browsing through the Europe Comics line on Hoopla, I encountered Sword Master, by Xavier Dorison, originally published in 2015. It seemed to be about, well, a 16th-century master-at-arms, which sounded neat. But the introduction started alarm bells ringing:

Ouch! The myths and errors are flying thick and fast here.
  • The Bible was the law? All the secular lawyers in Europe in the early 1500s would have been quite surprised to learn that, I think. Canon lawyers, too, if it came to that--they would certainly accept the Bible's authority, but you didn't get a degree in canon law by studying Scripture. Ironically, the idea of the Bible as law reflects far more a Reformation perspective, particularly among the more 'fringe' elements of the movement, like the Anabaptists.
  • The Bible endorsed the 'enslavement of the great many by the very few?' Presumably this means some sort of metaphorical slavery, since the majority of Europeans were slaves in no era, and particularly not c. 1500, when slaves were rare or absent across most of the continent. I'd guess this means nothing more than the use of the Bible to justify the authority of monarchs and institutional churches--but that again grew stronger after the Reformation, in the era of confessionalization, as it is often known.
Things got worse on the first page of the comic:


1531 is the 'first glimmers of the Renaissance' a movement that has been underway in Italy for more than a century before this? Even in France that is at least a generation too late. Also (unless the translation is bad) Dorison is lumping Aristotle together with Vesalius and Gutenberg as part of the Renaissance, opposed to the 'flaming pyres of the obscurantists.' But Aristotle had been studied in medieval universities since the late twelfth century, and Renaissance humanism was in part a reaction against scholastic philosophy based on Aristotle.

Since hope springs semi-eternal, I kept going for a bit, through a fairly interesting fight sequence, but then hit my limit when the main character, who has become an 'enforcer' for a local priest, does not (as ordered) break the arm of a man who is behind on paying tithes, only to be told by the priest "of what use is a man's tithe if he no longer fears me?" Our hero is then told to roast the feet of another delinquent over the fire...

Needless to say, none of this has much if any connection to historical reality. It's basically a restaging of 'black legend' anti-Catholic propaganda from the 16th and 17th centuries. (There was of course a similar set of anti-Protestant stereotypes and legends used by Catholic propagandists). I find it surprising that it is being recycled, apparently as truth, in 2015. A century or two ago, it would be pretty standard, part of ongoing confessional conflicts between Protestants and Catholics, or of Enlightenment hostility to organized religion of any stripe. But I suspect that neither of those things are in play here.

Instead, I'd guess that Dorison has picked up this mythic version of the past and run with it because it makes for simpler storytelling. We have a straightforward conflict between good and evil, in which the villains are quite despicable, leading toward the victory of good and the triumph of the modern world. It's more evocative to have the local priest acting like a mob boss and ordering limbs to be broken rather than having him haul delinquents into court for failure to pay. Or get drunk, or charge extra fees for services, or refuse to pay local taxes, or other things that were more normal complaints about clergy. But, to me at least, it's rather like someone deciding to do a comic about the American Revolution and deciding: 'Screw all the political and moral complexity of the situation! Let's base George Washington on the stories in Parson Weems' biography. So he'll be a paragon who never tells a lie and is constantly chopping down cherry trees...'

This is very much a propagandistic view of the benighted past promoted by those who haven't bothered to, you know, read history. It is very much the Voltarian view that Berlin critiques in the talk I linked to.
 

Lofgeornost

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Last night I finished Darrell Schweitzer's Mask of the Sorcerer (1995) in an e-book version. It was so good I'm considering buying a paper copy--one of the most interesting sword-and-sorcery novels written in the last 25 years, as far as I know. I don't want to say too much about it, for fear of spoilers. Suffice it to say that it is the story of a young man thrust into the world of sorcery by the actions of his father, that its culture is based loosely on ancient Egypt, and that it has a very interesting take on the nature of magic and the mythic understructure of this particular world.

Rather than praising it myself, I'll turn the job over to Gene Wolfe:
"If ever your heart has said, 'The great days are no more. The golden afternoon of golden tales has faded into night, and I came late, born out of time, to warm my hands at the embers that flicker and fade hour by hour' -- read this. . . Here are ghosts grim and gentle, red gold of Ophir, and fell weavings. Here is a tale to keep Scheherazade talking a hundred years."
 
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