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Archive for the ‘Mars’ Category

Noted RPG author and fantasy critic Kenneth Hite has just posted a review of the Planet Stories edition of C. L. Moore’s Northwest of Earth at Flames Rising. In the review, Hite takes on the common remark that Moore’s hero Northwest Smith set the mold for Han Solo, and makes a number of interesting observations about the stories in our collection.
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No, Smith may inhabit a solar system of Martian canals and Venusian swamps, but his adventures are less SF than a kind of lush, operatically colored noir. (Dario Argento instead of Sternberg?) As in noir, Smith can depend on nothing but his instincts to guide him: “a bed-rock of savage strength” is his real gift, an unbreakable will to survive as an individual that saves him time and again. He’s more Man With No Name than he is Han Solo. The world is strange, the city unfriendly (Smith spends a lot of time in various wretched hives of scum and villainy on Mars and Venus), and the girl … well, the girl is always the heart of the problem.

In the course of his review, Hite manages to coin my favorite phrase to date in a Planet Stories review: “This opalescent fog of language is the best thing about the stories; Moore reads like Clark Ashton Smith on Cialis.” That sounds very appealing, and makes me wish we were going to reprint immediately so I could put it on the back cover.

If you enjoy Ken’s review, I strongly urge you to pick up a copy of his latest critical work, Tour de Lovecraft: The Tales, which includes a short critical essay on every single story Lovecraft published under his own byline. It’s an amusing, insightful work sure to be of great interest to all Planet Stories readers.

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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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