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Lofgeornost

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So, it was a cold and rainy Sunday. I spent the afternoon reading another of Wagner's Kane novels, Bloodstone (1975) in the SF Gateway e-book edition. Like the earlier ones I read (Darkness Weaves and Dark Crusade) it was quite entertaining. It's a little odd, though, that all three Kane novels seem to have variations on the same plot: two states are at odds and Kane interjects himself into the struggle, planning to desert his erstwhile allies when the time seems ripe. Also, like the earlier novels, Bloodstone spends a fair amount of time--and chapters--on characters besides Kane himself. This time it's chiefly one of the two rulers, a thoughtful lord named Dribeck, and Teres, the hell-raising daughter of his rival. I found her one of the more interesting female characters in the Kane saga.

I won't say much about the plot, for fear of spoilers, but I will note that (like Darkness Weaves) this novel leans farther in the direction of science-fantasy than Dark Crusade or the Kane short-stories I've read. The titular bloodstone is an extra-terrestrial entity which wields alien super-science rather than magic, though as some characters in the novel note, there is not much of line between them. The book also features an alien race, the Rillyti, who are the bloodstone's servants. Rather than the typical serpent-men, they are froglike in appearance--which gives Wagner a chance to use the rare adjective 'vomerine' more than once in the book. Of course, this kind of science-fantasy isn't uncommon in sword-and-sorcery tales, especially the older ones. Given Kane's own mythic origins, I do find itsomewhat jarring.
 

Acmegamer

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Lofgeornost Lofgeornost Honestly I think his drinking and depression really got in the way of his being the writer he should have been. I imagine his books could have been much better had he dealt with those issues and he would have lived longer as well. :sad: Still his books are worth the read.
 

Simon Hogwood

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I recently finished the Warhammer omnibus The Vampire Genevieve, by Jack Yeovil (Kim Newman). I really enjoyed it, as I do most from things from that author, although I can see some of the criticism that some of the stories only technically had the title character in it. In a way it was almost like reading three or four Discworld novels from the Mirror Universe.
 

Lofgeornost

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I recently read Night Winds, a collection of Kane short stories and novellas by Karl Edward Wagner. Like Death Angel’s Shadow, it’s quite good; in fact, the Kane short stories are stronger than the full-length novels, in my opinion. As I noted upthread, the novels all have essentially the same set-up, which makes them a little formulaic—the shorter fiction has more variety.

Like the novels, the shorter tales often focus as much on other characters as on Kane himself. In fact, he is something of a background figure, though a crucial one, in the first and last stories in the collection. The earlier of these, “Undertow,” shows Kane in a less usual role, as magician more than swordsman. Though most Kane tales make some reference to his occult knowledge, they spend more space on his fighting abilities. “Undertow,” along with the final story “Sing a Last Song of Valdese,” is closer to horror, perhaps, than sword-and-sorcery, though that boundary is always pretty vague and porous. The evocative third story, “Dark Muse,” also has strong horror overtones, in the quest of the doomed poet Opyros for a revelatory vision from Klinure, the muse of dream—and the devastation this seeking unleashes. Opyros’ magnum opus, “Dark Winds,” also gives the book its title.

The short story “Two Suns Setting,” is a bit more standard sword-and-sorcery fare: Kane, fleeing through a trackless desert befriends (so to speak) Dwassllir, one of the last of the ancient race of giants, and accompanies him in the search for the tomb of a renowned giant king. The monsters they predictably encounter there are not that interesting; the main attraction of the story is its elegiac mood, unusual for a Kane tale, and the debate between Kane and Dwassllir on the merits of human and giant civilizations. The novella “Raven’s Eyrie,” is perhaps the strongest offering in the volume. At first the plot seems straightforward: Kane’s band of bandits has been run to earth and Kane himself is badly injured. As the bounty-hunters close in, Kane’s men take refuge in an out-of-the way inn (which gives the story its title), which Kane had sacked some years previously. But the ruined inn hides a variety of secrets, some linked to Kane’s past, and all this occurs on the night of an annual Wild Hunt, in which a demonic lord searches the mountains for prey. Wagner combines the various elements seamlessly and creates several well-drawn characters for Kane to deal with. The story also features a memorable exchange between Kane and the demonic huntsman, Lord Sathonys/Tloluvin, which (unusually) reveals something of Kane’s outlook and basic motivations. The resolution of Kane’s ‘game’ with the demon-lord seems a bit rushed, though—unlike his struggle with the bounty-hunters.

The story “Lynortis Reprise,” is likewise carefully crafted. Its underlying secret is perhaps a bit obvious, but this doesn’t detract from the power and thrust of the tale. The setting is a conquered and abandoned city, Lynortis, and the battlefield around it. Some decades before the story begins, the ruler of a neighboring kingdom launched a vast army of 100,000 or more against the city. Since Lynortis was built at the top of a huge spire of sandstone, thousands of feet high, and well-provisioned, it held out in a lengthy siege, which wrecked the lands round about, until it finally fell to treachery. But the campaign also destroyed the conqueror’s army. Now stories have grown up of a hidden cache of treasure, intended to hire a relieving force, and mercenaries hunt the ruins for a girl who supposedly knows the secret. She of course falls in with Kane in the course of the story.

It’s a gripping narrative, but the ruined battlefield and the siege itself are clearly modeled on the First World War—the terrain is cross-crossed by old trenches and gas bombs (sorcerous in nature, not chemical) linger in the soil to kill the unwary. All this is evocative, but I’m afraid it broke my suspension of disbelief. A town thousands of feet up a sandstone spire or mesa simply couldn’t be reached by premodern catapults and artillery, and even if their solid shot could have reached that high it would have lost almost all its velocity in the process, leaving little force to batter down the walls. Nor would there be much point in digging trenches against projectiles coming down from thousands of feet above on nearly-vertical trajectories—they are useful against the mainly-horizontal trajectories of fire-arm shots or shrapnel. I suppose one could rationalize all this by bringing Lynortis down from the clouds and putting it on a much lower stone base. Anyway, it’s the sort of consideration that probably only occurs to a tiny fraction of the potential readership.
 

Lofgeornost

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At this point, I’ve read through almost all of the Kane material available through the Gollancz SF Gateway. They do publish the Book of Kane, which I’ve not read, but most of the stories in that collection appear in either Death Angel’s Shadow or Night Winds. I’d like to get the Kane stories in paper format too, but none seem to be currently in print and used copies are fairly expensive. That’s a shame—the books hold up well, I think, and might easily attract an audience today.

In Sorcerer and Sword, Ron Edwards described Wagner’s Kane books as “utterly unpretentious, balls-to-the-wall sorcerous pulp. Full of drugs and slaughter and brooding.” I’m not sure I agree with all of that; the slaughter is certainly there, but drugs really don’t play a very prominent role in the fiction. They’re mentioned from time to time, more for other characters than Kane himself, but this is no Confessions of an Opium Eater. I have a vague memory that the idea that the Kane stories featured a lot of drug use kept my staid teenage self from reading them back in the old days. If so, I was mistaken. Further, though I certainly wouldn’t call the Kane books pretentious, they do have a kind of Nietzschean slant to them. Kane is essentially Cain, but his relationship with his creator is described this way in Darkness Weaves:

“Kane was one of the first true men, born into a hostile world of strange ancient beings. In this dawn world of humanity, Kane defied the insane god who created his race… This demented elder god dabbled at creating a race of mindless creatures whose only existence would be to amuse and delight him. He almost succeeded until Kane rebelled against this stifling paradise and spurred the young race to independent will. He killed his own brother, who sought to oppose his heresy, thus bringing violent death as well as rebellion to the infant mankind. Disgusted at the failure of his depraved design, the god abandoned his creation.”

One complaint that I have about the Gollancz Gateway e-editions of these books: there are no maps. They aren’t strictly necessary—even for the novels, the various geographic relationships tend to be fairly straightforward and well-described by Wagner, so it’s easy enough to create your own scratch map. But it’s not so easy to relate the parts of the world described in one story with those mentioned in another—or even perhaps to recall that the portion you are reading about now was mentioned several books back. And it’s not as though Wagner was opposed to maps—in fact, the very first Kane novel had a map included in it. It’s easy enough to find such maps on the internet, of course, but Gollancz really should have included some in the e-books.
 

robertsconley

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Just finished Leviathan's Fall, the last novel of the Expanse.

Just epic, just simply epic.

It too soon to talk details but I really like how the authors made the crew, Jim, Amos, Naomi, and Alex just regular folks but yet crucial to the epic ending of the book. Throughout the series everything flowed from one thing to another crossing science fiction sub genres without being jarring. I like how this novel has some well placed call backs to the early novels in the series.
 

Acmegamer

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Just finished Leviathan's Fall, the last novel of the Expanse.

Just epic, just simply epic.

It too soon to talk details but I really like how the authors made the crew, Jim, Amos, Naomi, and Alex just regular folks but yet crucial to the epic ending of the book. Throughout the series everything flowed from one thing to another crossing science fiction sub genres without being jarring. I like how this novel has some well placed call backs to the early novels in the series.
Obviously as a crew they had the GURPS Disadvantage...


Along with the Advantage Luck.

 

The Butcher

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I've been slogging my way through Heretics
You too? Hate to admit it, told myself it was tela life but yeah, it’s a slog all right. (Haven’t gotten to the scene you describe, sounds like an absolute riot.)

I need some recommendations in the fantasy genre. I'm burnt out on grim, dour Game of Thrones wannabe fantasy. Is anyone writing about worlds we'd want to live in? Any good Middle Earth wannabe fantasy?
I would be loath to answer without understanding what about Tolkien stands out to you.

For me Tolkien is all about the mono no aware, the melancholic beauty of a world that passes on. Heroes and battles, rings and gemstones, palaces and monuments, a beautifully and fully realized world of intricate alphabets and merry songs that crumble and leave us looking back at the past and at some point embracing rather than dreading the unstoppable march of time.

Sounds like a hoot! More stuff for the reading pile.

Last book in the Expanse series came out today...
Just got it on the Kindle. Can’t wait to read it.
 

AsenRG

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Currently reading: SPQR by Mary Beard:thumbsup:.

Obviously as a crew they had the GURPS Disadvantage...


Along with the Advantage Luck.

Which makes them the same as many other protagonists. I'd like some mechanical variety:grin:!

I've been slogging my way through Heretics and I would tend to agree. It kinda feels like it should have ended with God Emperor. There are some great bits in it like the rediscovery of Sietch Tabar; But then there are multiple chapters dedicated to 3 people hanging out in a panic room and the drama of one of them trying to bone another all while the third person uses his computer brain to try and calculate the reason why.
...I'd disagree:shade:.

For me Tolkien is all about the mono no aware, the melancholic beauty of a world that passes on. Heroes and battles, rings and gemstones, palaces and monuments, a beautifully and fully realized world of intricate alphabets and merry songs that crumble and leave us looking back at the past and at some point embracing rather than dreading the unstoppable march of time.
Kudos for resuming it in one paragraph, man:shade:.
 

Giganotosaurus

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You too? Hate to admit it, told myself it was tela life but yeah, it’s a slog all right. (Haven’t gotten to the scene you describe, sounds like an absolute riot.)
I don't know, part of it might just be that I've been having trouble motivating myself to read these past couple of months. For a while I could do a chapter a night but now I can't get myself to read anything.
I think I'm just a little burnt out on Dune, I've hardly read anything else since summer of last year.
I've been listening to Conan audiobooks on YouTube these past couple of weeks instead.
 

Brock Savage

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I’ll be interested in your evaluation of it. The ‘lunatic fringe’ of the Reformation is fascinating, but books on it can often be less than successful.
The book did a decent job of describing the Muenster rebellion and citing the events that lead up to it (namely the Reformation, Peasant's Revolt and persecution of Anabaptists) but Dan Carlin's podcast Prophets of Doom covered the same ground and was more entertaining. For people who are already familiar with what happened at Muenster it doesn't really bring anything new to the table. I was a little disappointed that the author understated or glossed over some things. For example, it mentions Hille Feyken was tortured by the Bishop-Prince's men without informing the reader what being "broken on the wheel" involved.

I wouldn't call the Anabaptists at Muenster lunatics and neither does the author. I think the term radical would be more appropriate. Some of it (esp after Jan Leden took over) reminds me of what happened with the People's Temple.
 

Ralph Dula

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I finally finished reading Destroyer #151. It almost feels like a meta-level punking of the reader.



-A dead character shows up alive, apparently because the author forgot she was dead.

-A long-established character is suddenly mentioned as being dead, with no explanation.
-Characters act like another dead character never existed, by which I mean they act like one of the most popular books in the series never happened.

-A number of pages later suddenly the character that people were acting like they never existed is brought up, and the character who acted like he never existed suddenly has total memory of them and their actions.
-The villains of the book turn out to be the henchwomen of the character who couldn’t be remembered fir a while, with an explanation of why they’re still alive worthy of Hudson Hawk.



There’s continuity errors that range from several points in the series’ history, to between two consecutive pages in this book. There are moments in the book that make me want to ask the author whether they have actually seen someone buy a lottery ticket and if they know vodka is not an instantaneous knockout drug. There’s also one moment where Remo does some supervillain-level dickery to an ally that’s just awful.



If I hadn’t already read the next book in the series and know it gets better, I’d have stopped reading after this book and the last one.
 

Lofgeornost

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The book did a decent job of describing the Muenster rebellion and citing the events that lead up to it (namely the Reformation, Peasant's Revolt and persecution of Anabaptists) but Dan Carlin's podcast Prophets of Doom covered the same ground and was more entertaining. For people who are already familiar with what happened at Muenster it doesn't really bring anything new to the table. I was a little disappointed that the author understated or glossed over some things. For example, it mentions Hille Feyken was tortured by the Bishop-Prince's men without informing the reader what being "broken on the wheel" involved.

I wouldn't call the Anabaptists at Muenster lunatics and neither does the author. I think the term radical would be more appropriate. Some of it (esp after Jan Leden took over) reminds me of what happened with the People's Temple.
Well, I did put the words ‘lunatic fringe’ in single quotation marks for a reason; basically to indicate that I was using them jocularly. ‘Radical’ has of course been the standard historiographical term in English since George Williams’ famous book at least. It’s a reasonable label, or course, but involves accepting the Anabaptists’ viewpoint about what is root and what is branch.

These problems of nomenclature are, I think, inescapable. Evangelical as the label for Luther and his early followers has similar problems. It’s a fair term, since it is one they embraced and it does refer to an important part of their theology. But it is also a slanted term, since their Catholic opponents would likewise have claimed to have Biblical truth on their side.

Even reformer is a loaded term in contemporary English; the basic assumption is that a reformer is improving something. One doesn’t call a bad or unwanted change a ‘reform.’
 
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Lofgeornost

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I recently finished We Are All Legends, by Darrell Schweitzer. I think I first heard of it in the chapter of Ron Edwards' Sword and Sorcerer where he discusses the development of S&S literature. IIRC, he describes it as 'one of the most depressing fantasy works ever written' or something similar. I've become a fan of Schweitzer's work in the last year or so, so I wanted to give it a try.

My own take is that it is not really that depressing, though I'm also not sure I'd label it sword-and-sorcery. It's a collection of tales about a knight named Julian who finds himself cursed to wander the world (I won't say how, for fear of spoilers). His journeys seldom take him to any identifiable place in this world, but rather through a generic medieval landscape and into strange other realms. The prose is good, though this is early Schweitzer and I think he grew as a writer; some later story collections I've read, like Echoes of the Goddess, are better than this book. It's well worth reading, though, and it has some stories I found really interesting, enjoyable, and creepy, like "The Lady of the Fountain," (which has echoes of Dunsany that turn much darker), "The Veiled Pool of Mistorak," "The Castle of Kites and Crows," (which plays with elements from Sir Gawain and the Green Knight), and the horrific "Divers Hands."

I read through the book, which is short, in just a couple of sittings. That probably isn't the best way to appreciate it, since the stories can come to have a certain sameness in tone and mood. It would like be better to read them one at a time, over intervals. According to L. Sprague De Camp's introduction (which I'd advise skipping if you want to avoid spoilers), Schweitzer modeled his tales on medieval romances and ballads, and on the movie The Seventh Seal. The latter influence is pretty clear, not only in the wandering hero but in recurrent discussions of God and the Devil both being insane.

WRLLLGNDS741981.jpg
 
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Lofgeornost

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Last week I read a collection of H.P. Lovecraft's stories that I picked up on a whim at my favorite used/new bookstore. It's entitled Stories of the Dreamlands and was published in 2020 by Arcturus Publishing, in London. I'd been meaning to revisit Lovecraft's Dreamlands tales for a while, in part with the idea of adapting elements from them for a fantasy campaign which would be more like Dunsany and Smith than Tolkien or Howard. I have the Ballantine paperbacks of Lovecraft from the early 1980s, but hadn't read them in decades.

Anyway, I should have paid more attention to the table of contents before buying the book, I guess, since it isn't really a collection of the Dreamlands cycle. It has most of stories from it, but not "The Dreamquest of Unknown Kadath," which is the longest single piece in the series. It also lacks the two Silver Key stories and 'The Thing in the Moonlight' and a couple of stories that only refer in passing to the Dreamlands. This isn't a question of running out of space, because the book contains a number of tales that aren't connected to the Dreamlands, like "Cool Air," or "The Color out of Space," and "The Case of Charles Dexter Ward," which mentions Randolph Carter in one paragraph.

Aside from that, it's a nice collection of stories and I enjoyed re-reading them. A little more editorial intervention would have been nice, however. The book contains some of Lovecraft's fragments, but never labels them as such, and on reading one--"The Descendant"--I wondered if the edition had left out the end of the tale, since it just abruptly stops at the bottom of a page. Checking the Ballantine editions showed it was always incomplete. I'm also not sure what the source of the texts used in the volume is--are they the original publications, which were sometimes abridged, or later fuller versions?

From what I've read, Lovecraft himself was not that fond of "The Case of Charles Dexter Ward" but I like it. The final secret, that by the end of the story 'Ward' is actually a resurrected Joseph Curwin,is fairly obvious, but that doesn't weaken the tale, really. I'd forgotten what a love-letter to Providence, R.I., the story is at its beginning. I'd also forgotten the element of using 'essential salts' of the dead for their resurrection. An odd memory lapse on my part, since I encountered the idea again a few years ago in some research on the tale of the 'vampire' of Breslau. It's a variant of the alchemical concept of palingenesis, which was normally applied to plants. Lovecraft borrowed it from Cotton Mather, who attributed it to 'Borellus' (Pierre Borel), who didn't actually endorse it, I think. Poking into this issue this morning led me to a an interesting brief article, "Vile Volumes? Bibliographic Citation in H. P. Lovecraft’s The Case of Charles Dexter Ward," by Emilie Hardman.

I also found myself wondering if the extensive subterranean 'lair' of Curwen in the story is, at some remove, one of the ancestors of the 'dungeon,' though as a place of danger and mystery rather than of treasure.
 

Lofgeornost

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This weekend, my neighborhood lost power of a day or so. This made me appreciate why people in earlier times wore so much clothing; I was pretty bundled up, though it didn't fall much below 50 F in the house. It also meant that I had more time to read using my IPad at night, since it was impossible to do much of anything else.

As a result, I read the Wildside Book of Fantasy, a collection I had checked out via Hoopla. It was quite eclectic and I'm not sure what, if any, principle guided the selection of works in it--there was no introduction or apparatus to explain that. Tales ranged from very short (Clive James, "The Swordsmen of Varnis," which I would call sword-and-planet) to almost novella (Howard's "Red Nails") and included all kinds of fantasy and some stories I might classify as horror. The earliest was Achmed Abdullah's "Light" (1918) and the latest Paul di Filippo's "The Emperor of Gondwanaland," (2005), both of which I enjoyed. I skipped some stories I had read already in the last couple of years, like "Red Nails," Clark Ashton Smith's "The Black Abbot of Puthuum," Dunsany's "Bride of the Man Horse," and Darrell Schweitzer's "Vandibar Nasha in the College of Shadows," (which is very good) and Nina Hoffman's "Bright Streets of Air," but otherwise read the collection straight through.

It's an interesting sampler of material. Some of the stories struck me as a little predictable or routine--for instance, Lawrence Watt-Evans' "Arms and the Woman," and Brian Stableford's "The Power of Prayer," thought the latter at least had an unusual setting--8th-century Aquitania. And E. Hoffman Price's "The Devil's Crypt," seems perhaps a bit creaky at this point--which is forgivable, since it was written in 1936. But most of the stories were intriguing in one way or another. To note just a couple: "The Dead Man," an early (1962) Gene Wolfe offering, showed him at his less cryptic. Thomas Burnett Swan's "The Dolphin and the Deep," made me think I should look for more of his work; it had a kind of sunniness you don't find much in heroic fantasy. But the most surprising story of the lot was Fritz Leiber's "Space-Time for Springers," about a self-proclaimed super-genius kitten.
 

Lofgeornost

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As part of my plan to re-read Lovecraft’s Dreamlands cycle, I read The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath, which I don’t think I’d looked at since sometime in the ‘80s. My reaction to it was rather different now than years before. Then, IIRC, I was coming to it after readings some of Lovecraft’s darker stuff and was struck by how relatively light and occasionally comic it seemed. This time I was approaching it from the perspective of Dunsany and of Lovecraft’s imitations of him, and it seemed much darker and more horrific. Randolph Carter certainly spends a lot of time in league with the ghouls in the novella. I was also struck by how rapidly Lovecraft had rejected the Dreamlands. In the story “Celephais” (1920), which reads to me as a good attempt to emulate Dunsany, the Dream-world is a fully viable alternative reality and the dreamer Kuranes is going to be much happier there than he would be on earth. But in The Dream-Quest the Dreamland has become something lesser than and dependent on our reality. When Carter finds Kuranes, the latter is dwelling in a simulacrum of the England he had known as a young man, not in the fabled Dream-City over which he rules, and he tells Carter that ultimately he too will find that the Dream-world palls. Further the fantastical sunset city that Carter is seeking turns out to be a construct built of childhood memories of New England—at least if you can trust Nyarlathotep.
 

Voros

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Picked up this collection of unfinished poems by the late, great John Ashbery. Edited and introduced by the woman who was his personal assistant for the last years of his life.

I'm not usually a fan of non-academic publishing of material the author may have never intended to be seen by the wider public but Ashbery tended towards the fragmented and incomplete as an aesthetic so these are pretty polished works.

'The Kane Richmond Project' is a terrific long-form poem written in tribute to the film actor best known for adventure serials and low budget genre films in the 30s/40s (The Shadow, Spy Smashers, Charlie Chan) with some collage of excerpts from boy's adventure fiction.

9780062968852.jpg
 
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The Butcher

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Just finished Leviathan Falls, book #9 and the finale for The Expanse. Spoilers ahoy.


I liked the ending. By the time Holden injects himself with the protomolecule, it’s a bit obvious — but they do a great job of building up to it. It becomes the only obvious choice between extinction or hive-mind collective.

Tanaka going apeshit at Duarte is good characters development. Ty and Franck are really good at this.

Call me a crotchety old fuck, but I don’t like how Amos, a thousand years in the future is all like “not into job titles” and “let’s get a beer” — there’s got to be a better middle ground between hard-knuckles bruiser mechanic and immortal God-Emperor of Mankind.

It was a good ending, though, and I hope we get something set in the intervening period between the ending and the epilogue. (I still want to know what happened to Filip! He was super annoying when flying with his papa but I really liked his fresh start send-off back in Babylon’s Ashes.
 

Lofgeornost

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I read a couple of other Randolph Carter stories, only loosely connected to the Dreamlands cycle, "The Silver Key," by Lovecraft alone, and "Through the Gate of the Silver Key," which he wrote in collaboration with E. Hoffman Price. The first is good Lovecraft, and makes you suspect that Carter was a kind of alter-ego for him--Carter's intellectual development and simultaneous embrace of and reaction against materialism seem a lot like Lovecraft. The second is not as successful, I thought, and its treatment of Yog-Sothoth is not really in keeping with the rest of the Mythos. Because I'd just read a Price story in the Wildside Book of Fantasy, I recognized the shout-out to his occult detective Pierre d'Artois in the story.
 

Lofgeornost

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Over the weekend, I re-read the old Ballantine/Del Rey collection of Lovecraft stories, The Doom that Came to Sarnath, skipping the tales that appeared in the Stories of the Dreamlands volume I read not long since. I was surprised to find that, though I did not recall the specific stories very well, some parts of them had been engraved on my memory when I first read them back in the 1970s or early 1980s, including the phrase "the easy grace of a Chesterfield or the godless cynicism of a Rochester" which appears in "The Tomb." That story prefigures some elements of "The Case of Charles Dexter Ward," but in a more eerie way, I'd say. I also enjoyed "The Festival," which like "The Tomb" describes events which are, from the narrator's point of view, impossible and inexplicable.
 

Lofgeornost

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Largely because they’re free on Hoopla, I read another in Lin Carter’s Lemuria sequence: Thongor and the Dragon City. It’s really novella length, only about 95 pages in this e-format. Although the Thongor books are usually described as Carter’s version of Conan, they owe a good deal more to Burroughs than Howard, I would say. The flying boat in reminiscent of Barsoom, the variety of dinosaur-like animals of Pellucidar or Venus, and Thongor sometimes seems closer to Tarzan than Conan or Kull. Oddly, the Thongor short story in the Wildside Book of Fantasy, “The Black Hawk of Valkarth,” (an origin story) seemed more Howardian in mood and setting. It was written some years later than this novel, though (1974 vs. 1966).

One of the characters in Thongor and the Dragon City is a palace torturer named Thalaba the Destroyer. The name seemed familiar, but it took me longer than I’d like to admit to remember that it’s the titular character of an epic poem by Robert Southey.
 

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Since I had an idle hour last evening, I read (via Hoopla) the first trade paperback collection of The Witcher from Image Comics. It was written by Paul Tobin, with art by Joe Querio, and a cover by Mike Mignola (which is how I became aware of it).

I know that The Witcher is a major franchise these days, with novels, a computer game, a tabletop rpg, and a Netflix series, but this was my first exposure to it. I found both the art and the story quite reminiscent of Hellboy, but in a good way. The dialogue between Geralt and his companion for most of the story, a man named Jakob, had some of the vibe and humor that I associate with the Hellboy character and at some points Querio’s art seemed pretty clearly based on Mignola.

I’m not sure if the comic is an adaptation of any of the novels, or an independent story. The credits said nothing about it being an adaptation, anyway. It was a good and atmospheric tale, involving a cursed ‘house of glass’ in the middle of the Black Forest, and assorted monsters: a Bruxa (or not), a Succubus, several Leshen, a graveyard hag, etc. A good deal was left cryptic, which I thought was effective. I’m not sure if the mixture of creatures from various European folklores is found in the books, etc., or not; the Leshen would be Eastern European, but the Bruxa is Iberian.
 

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Lofgeornost Lofgeornost , the Witcher tends to use a mixture of Eastern European and Mediterranean monsters combined with some AD&D ones.

Many details of the world seem to come from WFRP.
Nailed it. The Witcher has always had a very strong WFRP feel to it in my opinion and that's a wonderful thing. :smile:
 

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What monsters were based on AD&D?
He has chromatic dragons matching the Polish names for D&D dragons for example.

WFRP stuff would include that Novigrad is fairly closely modelled after Middenheim. For example both Novigrad and Middenheim have a large flame at their center which the priestly caste declares is the manifestation of their god, forming the city's central cult, but which magic users think to be due to one type of the winds of magic welling up from underground caverns through a vent in the rock. If I have time at some point I'll write out all the parallels in the WFRP thread. Sapkowski played WFRP in Łódź.
 

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He has chromatic dragons matching the Polish names for D&D dragons for example.

WFRP stuff would include that Novigrad is fairly closely modelled after Middenheim. For example both Novigrad and Middenheim have a large flame at their center which the priestly caste declares is the manifestation of their god, forming the city's central cult, but which magic users think to be due to one type of the winds of magic welling up from underground caverns through a vent in the rock. If I have time at some point I'll write out all the parallels in the WFRP thread. Sapkowski played WFRP in Łódź.
It's funny, while I was watching the latest season on netflix I was noticing similarities between Geralt and Elric, Sapkowski seemed to draw from a lot of different sources.
 

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Since I enjoyed the first The Witcher collection, I checked out the library edition omnibus for the series on Hoopla, and last night read the next series, a five-issue run titled “Fox Children.” It has the same author and artist as the first set (Paul Tobin/Joe Querio). Though it was good, I did not think it was as enjoyable as that earlier collection. Geralt’s character seemed a good deal more dour than in the first set—maybe in part to give his new (to the comic) dwarf sidekick something to do. Also, a lot of story revolved around illusion—the main opponent, a fox-spirit, could make humans believe and see just about anything. That didn’t work all that well as a story-element; I think it had something to do with the medium (i.e. comics).
 

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I read Robin Waterfield's history of Ancient Greece.

41h7YDMCRwL.jpg

In short it's quite readable and accessible and presents recent discoveries that I hadn't heard of before. It's probably "the" History of Ancient Greece to have right now since it summarises all these modern findings and covers periods most other books don't treat without being an overly heavy read.
 

Lofgeornost

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I read Robin Waterfield's history of Ancient Greece.

View attachment 39770

In short it's quite readable and accessible and presents recent discoveries that I hadn't heard of before. It's probably "the" History of Ancient Greece to have right now since it summarises all these modern findings and covers periods most other books don't treat without being an overly heavy read.

That looks interesting. I'm only familiar with Waterfield's books on the 300s and later eras. If Wikipedia can be trusted, he also wrote Fighting Fantasy gamebooks back in the late 1980s. IMO it's always difficult, in a new survey of a well-worked topic, to know how much to emphasize the latest research and how much to present information which has been well-established for decades, or perhaps (in this case) centuries. If a survey is too much like similar books before it, then it will be criticized for that, but if it takes too much of the established picture for granted, it can end up confusing readers new to the subject.

Over the holiday I read Margaret St. Clair's Sign of the Labrys. It's a short novel, or novella, really, that was first published in 1963; I read the Dover Domesday classics re-issue, which has a helpful preface by Barry Malzberg. Nowadays I would guess it is best-known as a book mentioned by Gygax which may have had some influence on the original design of D&D. It's an odd post-apocalyptic novel which mixes in elements of Wicca. A decade after a biodisaster--genetically-engineered yeasts have spawned plagues that wiped out 90% of humanity--the hero, Sam Sewell, is working at a meaningless job among the ruins and living in a vast underground complex that is sparsely populated. The remnants of the government, in the form of the F.B.Y. (presumably the Federal Bureau of Yeast) contact him in an attempt to reach a woman named Despoina, of whom he's never heard. This launches him on a strange journey into the depths of the complex and also into increasing knowledge of wiccan magic.

St. Clair uses a technique which Malzberg (in the intro.) associates with Van Vogt: important issues or points in the story are left vague or understated, to create an air of mystery. In part this involves using Wiccan ideas that are not then fully explained or described. St. Clair drew on Gerald Gardner's Witchcraft Today for these and later joined the Wiccan movement herself. Having such a body of lore to draw on (whatever one may think of it) gives some of the unexplained elements in the novel a degree of resonance they might otherwise lack. There are de rigueur elements taken from the Theseus myth as well. But the whole effect was not entirely successful, for me anyway. It's an enjoyable enough quick read, but ultimately felt rather slight.
 

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That looks interesting. I'm only familiar with Waterfield's books on the 300s and later eras. If Wikipedia can be trusted, he also wrote Fighting Fantasy gamebooks back in the late 1980s. IMO it's always difficult, in a new survey of a well-worked topic, to know how much to emphasize the latest research and how much to present information which has been well-established for decades, or perhaps (in this case) centuries. If a survey is too much like similar books before it, then it will be criticized for that, but if it takes too much of the established picture for granted, it can end up confusing readers new to the subject.

Over the holiday I read Margaret St. Clair's Sign of the Labrys. It's a short novel, or novella, really, that was first published in 1963; I read the Dover Domesday classics re-issue, which has a helpful preface by Barry Malzberg. Nowadays I would guess it is best-known as a book mentioned by Gygax which may have had some influence on the original design of D&D. It's an odd post-apocalyptic novel which mixes in elements of Wicca. A decade after a biodisaster--genetically-engineered yeasts have spawned plagues that wiped out 90% of humanity--the hero, Sam Sewell, is working at a meaningless job among the ruins and living in a vast underground complex that is sparsely populated. The remnants of the government, in the form of the F.B.Y. (presumably the Federal Bureau of Yeast) contact him in an attempt to reach a woman named Despoina, of whom he's never heard. This launches him on a strange journey into the depths of the complex and also into increasing knowledge of wiccan magic.

St. Clair uses a technique which Malzberg (in the intro.) associates with Van Vogt: important issues or points in the story are left vague or understated, to create an air of mystery. In part this involves using Wiccan ideas that are not then fully explained or described. St. Clair drew on Gerald Gardner's Witchcraft Today for these and later joined the Wiccan movement herself. Having such a body of lore to draw on (whatever one may think of it) gives some of the unexplained elements in the novel a degree of resonance they might otherwise lack. There are de rigueur elements taken from the Theseus myth as well. But the whole effect was not entirely successful, for me anyway. It's an enjoyable enough quick read, but ultimately felt rather slight.

I think it is a shame that St. Clair, a fine writer, is now mostly associated with Labrys due to rhe Gygax connection. Her sf is much better imo, Agent of the Unknown is particularly good and I seek out her other novels and short stories whenever possible.
 

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I think it is a shame that St. Clair, a fine writer, is now mostly associated with Labrys due to rhe Gygax connection. Her sf is much better imo, Agent of the Unknown is particularly good and I seek out her other novels and short stories whenever possible.

Good to know! I see that some collections of her fiction are available in paper from Dover and on Kindle from World of Pulp Fiction, Wildside Press, etc. I'll have to read further.

Over Christmas break I also read Kij Johnson's The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe, another short novel or novella. It fits into the current Lovecraft pastiche industry, which often seeks to reinterpret his works or worlds from a current progressive viewpoint. In this novel, it's Lovecraftian sexism that is on the chopping block rather than his racism, which is probably a more usual target. That may sound negative, but I have no problem with this sort of updating or rewriting. Johnson does it well; her critique is clear but she does not shove it down the reader's throat.

More importantly, her book is a good brief novel, which adopts the setting and some of the plot-structure of The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath to good effect. Johnson doesn't try to ape Lovecraft's style; her writing is less florid than his Dreamlands work. Making her protagonist an inhabitant of the Dreamlands rather than a dreamer from our reality was a deft touch.

Where the story rang somewhat false, for me at least, was in its interpretation of the Dreamlands. Johnson's version is constantly endangered by the petty spite of that world's gods--one of the motivations for the quest is the fear that one of them is going to destroy the city of Ulthar, home to Vellitt Boe. You can justify that by Lovecraft's "The Doom that Came to Sarnath," if you like, but it seems a strange reading of the corpus to me. There is little indication in the stories as a whole that the Dreamlands' gods (as opposed to the Other Gods, like Nyarlathotep) are stalking around causing trouble. One reason for Johnson's take seems to be thematic--the gods are pretty clearly a stand-in for patriarchy--but another seems to be the old Enlightenment critique of religion which has been standard in SF and Fantasy from Edgar Rice Burroughs, at least. I won't say more about that for fear of spoilers, though.

Another, minor, element of Johnson's Dreamlands which rang false to me--it has progressed in technology since Lovecraft's time. Gas-lighting is now fairly standard in cities, electric lights are not unknown, and some farms have (apparently steam-powered) tractors rather than animal-drawn ones. You can posit that if you like, of course, but it seems antithetical to the Dreamlands to me.
 
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