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Archive for the ‘Fantasy’ Category

I like to post Planet Stories notes to this blog when the mood strikes. Take a look at the posting times of some of the entries here, and you’ll see that some of the posts come late at night, others over lunch breaks, and sometimes in the middle of the day. I launched this blog because the sorts of review round-ups, guest postings, and in-depth nerdery I post here isn’t really appropriate for the “official” Planet Stories blog, which is to say the formal blog at the Paizo Publishing website.

I love that website like a child, and post frequently to the message boards. We’ve had a great Planet Stories Requests thread going for a couple of years, and I love chatting with Paizo readers, be they gamers, fans of vintage science fiction, or random walk-ons from the deepest corners of the World Wide Web.

But the blog over on Paizo.com is a formal affair. One post a day. Every post goes through our editing department, and then gets sent to our web team for coding and posting. Everyone knows this is an inefficient, sub-standard way of doing things, but the truth is that a growing publishing company with only a couple of web guys has more pressing concerns related to sales, message boards, and the like than making the blog more user friendly and easier for the staff to use.

I’m writing this post, for example, from the San Jose airport, having just completed a very successful World Fantasy Convention. Were I to send it in to the boys at Paizo, it would be at least 48 hours before it got posted, and that’s only assuming we didn’t have more strategically important posts on the schedule and assuming the editors and web team had enough time to look it over and throw it online.

As it happens, I don’t always have that kind of patience.

In short, saying “Hey, check out what Joe Reviewer just said about Robots Have No Tails!” isn’t really an appropriate way of spending the company’s resources, and it’s frankly a much bigger pain than it ought to be. As a result, that sort of post goes here. For a long while my editors, James Sutter and Chris Carey, were doing a good job posting monthly Planet Stories entries to the official Paizo blog, but with the extremely successful launch of the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game and the attendant ramp-up in our production across the board, they haven’t had much time to post about our novel line.

When it came time to discuss our newest release, A. Merritt’s THE SHIP OF ISHTAR, my beleaguered editors looked to me with puppy dog eyes, asking me to write a piece on the importance of the book and why I selected it for the line. Since this was one of my selections, since I knew I’d have some spare time during the convention, and since it’s virtually impossible to get me to shut up about Planet Stories once I get started, I of course agreed immediately to write the piece.

This is all a very long way of saying “My Ship of Ishtar post just went up on the official Paizo blog. You should read it.

Please forgive any typos in this unofficial blog update. It was written in an airport and hasn’t been proofed.

On the up side, it will post about three seconds after I hit the “publish” button…

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It’s been a while since I last posted here, due mostly to the HUGE release of Paizo’s Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Core Rulebook and the Pathfinder RPG Bestiary. That’s about a thousand pages of gaming material, and the initial releases of the Core Rulebook sold out before we even got it in our warehouse, and the Bestiary (which hits stores next week) is looking like a success of similar proportions. This has resulted in “that’s a good problem to have, but a problem none the less” becoming my official slogan of the last three months. Selling out huge print runs is indeed a problem, and involves all sorts of priority (and money) juggling and a laser focus.

In light of all of this, it’s a bit difficult to remember that Pathfinder is not Paizo’s only brand, and that we’ve got lots of great classic science fiction to publish as well. Sure, the craziness has delayed Planet Stories shipments a bit, but with the chaos largely behind us and the latest Planet Stories volume on its way to subscribers, it’s time to take another look at what’s been going on lately, and what’s coming down the pike.

PZO8005-Cover.inddThat new book I mentioned above is actually 85 years old this year, but it hasn’t been published for decades. I’m speaking of A. Merritt’s THE SHIP OF ISHTAR, surely one of the finest classics of fantasy ever published. Merritt was once counted among the finest fantasy writers in America, and while “in the know” readers recognize his talent and influence to this day, most of the modern audience has never heard of him.

That modern audience, I’m sorry to say, also includes book buyers, and while THE SHIP OF ISHTAR is probably the best-written and is certainly the best illustrated (thanks to 10 plates by the legendary Virgil Finlay rescued from two previous editions and collected here for the first time) Planet Stories book to date, it also has some of the lowest pre-orders on record. I expect reader reaction to be very positive on this title, and hold out hope for a “slow success,” but these things are not exactly going to be falling off off the shelves of your local bookstore, so ordering direct from Paizo.com may be your best bet to pick up this truly remarkable book.

Hey, the guys over at the Robert E. Howard blog The Cimmerian are really excited about THE SHIP OF ISHTAR, and they really know their stuff. Editor Deuce Richardson just called it “the best edition of this landmark fantasy novel in 60 years,” and I couldn’t agree more (admittedly, with a bit of bias).

Speaking of The Cimmerian, the site recently posted a glowing review of Leigh Brackett’s THE SWORD OF RHIANNON, one of my personal favorites from the 23 books Planet Stories has thus far released. Here’s what Deuce had to say about this one:

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Leigh hadn’t been in the writing game quite a full decade when she penned The Sword of Rhiannon and was yet to come into her full powers as an author. That said, Brackett had obviously found her own voice at that point, assimilating her influences and carving out her queendom in the science-fantasy field. The Sword of Rhiannon moves at a relentless pace and is filled to the brim with plot-twists and reversals of fortune. Carse is a “damaged hero” in the classic Brackett mold who hews and schemes his way across a gorgeously-imagined world. The Sword of Rhiannon was a milestone in Leigh Brackett’s career and is a novel well worth reading today.

I couldn’t agree more! Of course, if Leigh Brackett is your flavor of choice, Planet Stories has plenty of excellent adventure in store for you in the other four Brackett novels we’ve published to date. There’s the famous SKAITH TRILOGY (THE GINGER STAR, THE HOUNDS OF SKAITH, and THE REAVERS OF SKAITH), of course, all of which feature her influential and thoroughly awesome swordsman Eric John Stark of Mercury, one of science fantasy’s original outlaws.

PZO8006_180Prominent gamer Joe Kushner recently picked up the first Eric John Stark Planet Stories book, THE SECRET OF SINHARAT, which features two revised Stark novellas that originally appeared in the magazine Planet Stories in the 1940s. Kushner takes an interesting reviewing approach, riffing off of ideas found in the book and extrapolating how they might be used in an RPG campaign. I found this perspective quite interesting, and suspect you will too.

More has happened in the last month or so, but this post is already getting a little long in the tooth. I’ll be sure to come back soon!

Until then, don’t be a stranger. Please post a comment here on the blog. It’s nice to know someone is out there actually reading this stuff!

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Ink and Steel by Elizabeth Bear
Review by Cynthia Ward

Ink and SteelChristofer Marley has been treacherously slain.  It appears that he died in some sordid brawl, but the murder is in fact the hidden act of one faction of the divided Prometheans, secret conspirators who serve Queen Elizabeth I.  Marley’s death leaves no writer to pen the magically potent plays that keep the queen on England’s throne.  But his co-conspirators hope to use another playwright:  a promising young talent named Will Shakespeare.

     Unbeknownst to mortals, Marley’s life was saved by a queen of Faerie.  He seeks his killers and aids Shakespeare in spywork and play-magic.  But when Shakespeare is drawn into Faerie, the playwrights’ relationship changes.  And a higher power than even Faerie takes a dark interest in the pair.

     Ink and Steel is the new novel in Elizabeth Bear’s fantasy series, “The Promethean Age.”  Ink and Steel is also the first volume of “The Stratford Man,” a duology whose second and concluding volume is Heaven and Earth.

     With its beautiful prose, superior characterizations, intricate conspiracy, and deep historical, literary, and folkloric research, Ink and Steel demonstrates why Bear has received the Hugo, Campbell, Locus, and Sturgeon Awards.

     However, the novel also has a pair of significant weaknesses.  The first is that, when William Shakespeare’s feelings for his friend and colleague Christofer Marley (a.k.a. Christopher Marlowe) shift from platonic to romantic, readers are given no glimpse of Shakespeare’s thoughts during his bisexual awakening.  This absence makes the change difficult to believe, given that Ink and Steel initially presents Shakespeare as a heterosexual repulsed by homosexuality.

     The novel’s second weakness is its restless focus.  The main plotline follows Shakespeare’s development, with Marley’s help, as a magician-playwright/conspirator/spy.  But this plotline essentially vanishes as Bear explores Shakespeare and Marley’s altered relationship in depth.  Then, both relationship and conspiracy take a back seat as Faerie’s tithe to Hell is paid, and Bear shifts her focus to the nature of damnation.  By the end, Ink and Steel feels like three books under one cover.

     This problem may result from Ink and Steel being half a novel.  Rumor has it the book is the first part of a single novel published in two volumes, the second of which is Hell and Earth:  The Stratford Man, Volume II.  Certainly, when you read Ink and Steel and Hell and Earth back-to-back in that order, the restless focus resolves into a logical structure.

     Reading the two volumes as one never quite makes Shakespeare’s conversion to bisexuality convincing.  But, if you put that aside and take the books as a single novel‑-as a whole‑-they work wonderfully.

Cynthia Ward (http://www.cynthiaward.com) has sold stories to Sword & Sorceress 24 (Norilana Books, http://norilana.com/), Asimov’s SF Magazine (http://www.asimovs.com/), and other magazines and anthologies. Her reviews appear regularly in Kobold Quarterly (http://www.koboldquarterly.com/) and Sci Fi Wire (http://scifiwire.com/index.php), and irregularly elsewhere. She publishes the monthly Market Maven e’newsletter (http://www.cynthiaward.com/maven.html), which covers market news in the science fiction, fantasy, and horror fields. She is working on her first novel, a futuristic mystery tentatively titled The Stone Rain. With Nisi Shawl, Cynthia coauthored the writing manual Writing the Other: A Practical Approach (Aqueduct Press, http://www.aqueductpress.com/conversation-pieces.html#Vol8), which is based on their fiction diversity writing workshop, Writing the Other: Bridging Cultural Differences for Successful Fiction (http://www.writingtheother.com/).

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Henry Kuttner's <i>The Dark World</i>

Henry Kuttner's The Dark World

Jared over at Troll in the Corner has just posted an excellent review of the Planet Stories edition of Henry Kuttner’s science-fantasy classic The Dark World. In doing so he manages to encapsulate the entire point of the reprints in the Planet Stories line so far:

Books like The Dark World remind me why I love fantasy/sci-fi so much in the first place. Here I’ve spent the better part of two decades reading every great author I can get my hands on, and not only are there new ones coming out constantly, there are still gems from years ago I have yet to read.

Major chain bookstores took a pretty paltry order for The Dark World, I’m sorry to say, so if you haven’t had a chance to pick up this recent release yet, I suggest ordering directly from the source at Paizo.com.

Thanks for the review, Jared! And thanks to all of you who have given Henry Kuttner a shot, either in our earlier releases such as Elak of Atlantis or in our brand new release, Robots Have No Tails.

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Last weekend Pierce Watters and I hit the trail to promote Planet Stories (and other Paizo books) at Book Expo America, the largest book trade show in the country. After an ill-fated move to Los Angeles last year, the Expo has returned to its home at New York’s Javitt’s Center, where it will reside for the next several years. We arrived in New York on Wednesday and set up the Paizo booth on Thursday in anticipation of a Friday morning opening. Once again we were in the Diamond “Alley,” which is to say a row of several booths organized by our American book trade distributor, Diamond Book Distributors (or DBD, if you prefer).

BEA 2009: The Planet Stories Booth

BEA 2009: The Planet Stories Booth


Unlike in previous years, this time Paizo was Diamond’s only non-comic publisher at the show. We were joined by such luminaries as Marvel Comics, Dark Horse, IDW, and a passel of smaller comic, graphic novel, and manga publishers. Traffic was noticeably down this year (the economy and the impending collapse of Borders has really hurt the publishing industry as a whole), with many giant publishers scaling down their booths or electing not to display at the show at all. Just about everyone I spoke to was peeved about this, but there was more than enough stuff to see and do without them. To me, the giant multi-imprint booths are always pretty difficult to navigate. As a tiny booth in the Diamond Alley we often have as much or more of a noticeable presence than, say, Tor or Ace or Del Rey, who are often nearly impossible to find since they are all owned by huge publishing houses with gigantic booths.

As usual, we had piles and piles of free books on hand to give away to buyers, librarians, and the assorted book lovers who come to the show. We managed to give away about 400 books, including 80 copies of our newest Planet Stories release, Robots Have No Tails, by Henry Kuttner.

Reaction to the new look for Planet Stories was almost uniformly positive, with many buyers and attendees congratulating us on the pulpy look of the new books. The covers for both Robots and The Ship of Ishtar received a lot of kudos, and I think the new look will help the books find a bigger market than they have managed to date. We ran a huge library promotion at the show, and though I don’t know if any of the many buyers I spoke to about it will bite, but I remain hopeful.

Now that we’ve been displaying our line for three consecutive BEAs, we’re starting to develop a bit of a reputation. For the first time many retailers attending the show knew about Planet Stories and talked about stocking them in their stores. It’s nice to shift from “here’s our deal” to “nice to talk to you again,” and I see it as part of the ongoing process of making Planet Stories a sustainable, profitable business venture. Very few people (relatively speaking) open our books expecting to see comics, and it seemed like a near-majority of booth visitors were at least familiar with our company (though I heard some VERY interesting pronunciations of “Paizo”). Overall I feel like we’re getting a bigger and better reputation each year, and we’re becoming a more and more important part of Diamond’s overall operation, which is nice.

I finished two Planet Storiesesque books on the planes to and from New York: Judgment Night, by C. L. Moore, and A Princess of Mars, by Edgar Rice Burroughs. I’ll have full reviews soon on my sister blog, Paperback Flash, as soon as I get back from my current trip to Minnesota and have some time to scan up the covers. The upshot is that Judgment Night is a really excellent book filled with the lush description common in Black God’s Kiss and Northwest of Earth, but with a much more active protagonist who prefers taking control of her own destiny rather than passively watching as interesting things happen around her. The opening chapters on a pleasure-moon are particularly noteworthy, as is the later destruction of that world in the final chapters of the book. Fun stuff, and very much in the vein of other material we’ve published.

There’s not much to say about A Princess of Mars that hasn’t already been said. It’s a far, far better book than I expected (I last read it years and years ago and had forgotten almost every detail), especially given that it was originally published in 1912. You can see how it inspired dozens of imitators, and reading John Carter’s first voyage to Mars is like seeing the blueprint for countless hacky ripoffs that have followed in the century since its original publication. There are flaws. The narrative relies WAY too much on coincidence, and by the time Carter randomly crash lands his airship at the feet of his old buddy Tars Tarkas near the end of the book, I’d just about hit my limit. Happily, the book was over very shortly thereafter, and I moved immediately on to The Gods of Mars, which I’m still working on.

More about all of this stuff as I scrape together some additional free time to blog about it.

Until then, subscribers should keep their eyes on their mailboxes and readers everywhere should keep their eyes on the local bookstores. Robots Have No Tails is on its way!

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Northwest of EarthAuthor and noted sf critic Paul Kincaid has just posted a very thoughtful review of C. L. Moore’s Northwest of Earth: The Complete Northwest Smith, one of the most popular Planet Stories releases to date, to SFSite.com. Northwest of Earth collects all of Moore’s seminal Northwest Smith stories together in one volume for the very first time, from the debut story that launched Moore’s career in 1933 (“Shambleau”) to her final story featuring the outlaw of the spaceways in 1957 (“Song in a Minor Key”).

Kincaid summarizes Northwest Smith this way: “His natural habitat is the cheap bars, grungy hotels and dangerous alleyways of port towns on Mars and Venus. But this futuristic backwoods is only the stepping-off point for wild journeys of the imagination into exotic and erotic realms that always somehow open out from our base reality. From such dark and dusty starting points, the stories explode into colour; everything in these other realms is in scarlet or blue, purple or gold. Always bold primary colours, there are no tints, shades or pastels to be seen, for these are bold primary adventures.”

I was particularly struck by Kincaid’s observation regarding the use of doorways and passages in the Northwest Smith stories. Indeed, when we first meet the character he is standing in a dusty Martian doorway, and many of his adventures take place in otherworldly realms accessed through portals of various kinds. In this way Smith shares many similarities with Moore’s other prominent character, the Dark Ages swordswoman Jirel of Joiry, whose seductive fantasies are collected in the Planet Stories edition Black God’s Kiss.

Unlike Jirel, who can be read as perhaps the first feminist sword & sorcery protagonist, Northwest Smith has a somewhat more complicated approach to sexual politics. The women he encounters are usually tied up with danger and even death, and while the Smith stories represent some of the most sensually described tales of the pulp era, there is a complex morality play going on that makes Moore’s stories more fascinating because they were written by a woman.

As Kincaid puts it, “Sex, itself a ‘nameless’ subject in the popular literature of the relatively straitlaced 1930s, was a fairly common subtext of those encounters with the mysterious that were related in the typical weird tale, and a suggestion of the erotic must have been a selling point in colourful popular magazines. But the sexual aspect of Moore’s Northwest Smith stories is hardly a subtext, the imagery is too potent, too central, too omnipresent for that. These are stories in which sex is death, beauty is a commodity independent of the person, and women are a danger and must be killed.”

 

Illustration by Jean-Claude Forest.

Illustration by Jean-Claude Forest.

I think the latter observation is layering it on a bit thick, but a certain sensuality and sense of sexual danger pervades the Northwest Smith stories, which for me makes them all the more fascinating. Plus there’s heat guns and ruined cities and monsters and stuff, threads of pulp adventure that give the stories life and excitement beyond their considerable subtext.

 

You can learn more about reviewer Paul Kincaid by visiting his website. Copies of Northwest of Earth: The Complete Northwest Smith are available direct from the publisher at paizo.com.

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PZO8005-Cover.inddLeigh Brackett wrote the first draft of The Empire Strikes Back and worked with William Faulkner on The Big Sleep, but her greatest contribution to science fiction was a series of tales set on a fantastic Mars. Brackett’s Red Planet was a place of ancient cities perched on the crumbling cliffs of dry canals and the windswept seabeds of ancient oceans, a world of adventurers and confidence men and swordsmen and thieves. The latest Planet Stories release, The Sword of Rhiannon is a perfect introduction to Leigh Brackett’s best-loved stories, and a great place to sample Paizo’s Planet Stories line.

Brackett’s Mars draws great inspiration from the “Barsoom” stories of Edgar Rice Burroughs, who invented the “sword & planet” genre with his tales of interplanetary adventure. Most of Leigh Brackett’s Martian stories, likeThe Secret of Sinharat, take place in a similar world many hundreds of years in the future, where colonization by Earth is a foregone conclusion. The Martians of this world are furtive, reclusive folk, largely resigned to the imminent demise of their once proud culture. The Sword of Rhiannon thrusts crooked archeologist Matt Carse into the glorious past of Mars, producing the most Burroughs-influenced and swashbuckling of Brackett’s Martian tales.

The Mars of Rhiannon is a place of glittering oceans and majestic cities, of fantastic ships oared by galley slaves, of Sea Kings and living gods and magic blades. This is the Red Planet at the height of its culture and decadence, allowing Brackett to craft a marvelous tale of adventure that stands among her very finest

If you’ve been curious about Planet Stories but haven’t been sure where to start, wonder no longer. The Sword of Rhiannon is exactly the sort of book we had in mind when we set out to publish the finest tales in the history of fantasy, and lovers of swordplay, gloriously imagined locales, and pulse-pounding excitement will find much to excite their interest in this latest release.

But fair warning. Reading Leigh Brackett can lead to a powerful literary addiction. Happily, Planet Stories is ready and able to keep you comfortable throughout your recovery.

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