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Archive for the ‘Planetary Romance’ Category

PZO8005-Cover.inddThe Reavers of Skaith, by Leigh Brackett, is the final novel in the saga of Eric John Stark, Brackett’s most beloved SF character. It’s the fourth of the five Brackett books Planet Stories has published to date, with a stunning cover by James Ryman and an introduction by film director George Lucas, who discusses Brackett’s role in writing the first draft of The Empire Strikes Back and her influence upon the entire Star Wars saga. We were blown away that Lucas was able and willing to write such a thoughtful introduction for us, and this book looked like it had everything going for it and would become one of our strongest sellers.

But everything does not always go over as planned. For unknown reasons (and this happens more often than most publishers would admit), Barnes & Noble simply decided to skip this book entirely, so despite all it has going for it the book has not had the robust distribution of many of our other titles. While that probably will mean fewer returns and a more steady journey to profitability in the long run (the same thing happened to Henry Kuttner’s Elak of Atlantis), it has the unintended effect of limiting the online discussion of the book to a relative whimper.

I was surprised and pleased, then, to find a fairly recent review of The Reavers of Skaith posted to the entertaining blog My Own Private Geekdom, a LiveJournal administered by gamer and sci-fi fan Joel Flank. Check out what Joel has to say about the book:

Stark remains a ruthless killer and the ultimate survivor, with a combination of trained fighting prowess and animal instincts keeping him alive. Brackett once again spins a compelling story that gets the blood pumping and grabs the reader and won’t let them go until the conclusion of the story.

If you haven’t yet seen a copy of The Reavers of Skaith at your local store, don’t despair! You can order directly from the publisher at Paizo.com.

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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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 By 1955 I had exhausted all of the books in the Bellaire, Texas library on earthquakes, volcanoes, and dinosaurs. It was a sad day when I finished the last Roy Chapman Andrews book. So I began looking around for something else to read and came across a book called Danger, Dinosaurs! By Richard Marsten. Well, it had dinosaurs in the title, so what the heck. After all, I had whined, kicked, cried, and eventually badgered my parents into taking me to see the film Blackboard Jungle, certain that Tarzan had to be in any movie with “Jungle” in the title. Was I ever disappointed. But how can a book called Danger, Dinosaur! go wrong? And I read it, and it was great. The protagonist goes on a tour back in time to hunt dinosaurs. The problem was, the group got stranded, and the leader of the hunt was killed, and if you die before you were born, you never existed.

 

Holy cow! This stuff was great. Well, I looked around and found The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet by Eleanor Cameron. Zowie this stuff was good. And then I went on to Asimov and Heinlein and all the wonders of science fiction, with the occasional fantasy thrown in, like Three Hearts and Three Lions.

 

There wasn’t much fantasy in those days, actually, not much until Donald Wolheim pirated LoTR. I was a teen-ager by then and found a copy of The Fellowship of the Ring in a little mom and pop bookstore one day on my way home from my paper route. So I bought it, but didn’t read it. I hated reading book 1 of anything. Once I had accumulated all three of the books I read them non-stop. I still remember lying on the couch with my mother yelling, “Bud (that was my nickname), get off of that &%$@# couch and go do something!” To get my attention, Mother sometimes displayed the vocabulary of a sailor. Eighteen hours, I think, it took me 18 hours to read LoTR one weekend.

 

About that same time I discovered Andre Norton’s Key Out of Time in the High School library, and it went on and on…in those days there was so little published it was easy to read everything that came out every month and still have time to catch up on old stuff at the library. I never discovered the pulps. I don’t know why. Maybe when I saw them I didn’t have any money, or what I had I spent on comics. Ha! Robert Silverberg told me he once had a quarter and had to chose between buying a pack of cigarettes or a copy of Galaxy magazine. He chose Galaxy. Good choice!

 

It was also about that time that I discovered Analog magazine and that was the first magazine to which I subscribed. John Campbell and his corral of writers—man was that a sight for sore eyes every month—in my mail box. And I loved the reviews by P. Schuyler Miller. In Fort Worth, Texas it was hard to tell what new books were out, much less find them.

 

Which brings us to the cover of Planet Stories here. This Alfred Coppel story led to his novel The Rebel of Rhada which he wrote under the pen name of Robert Cham Gilman. Miller reviewed the book so I had to have it, but he also mentioned that this was a pen name for a famous SF writer. “Who,” I wondered? Asimov? Heinlein? Well, I finally found out, but being deprived of the nutritional goodness of Planet Stories during my formative years, I was not enlightened. Alfred Coppel?

 

So, I have watched the field grow and shrink over the past 55 years pulsing like…well, like a pulsar. SF shrinks to almost nothing and fantasy grows, threatening to absorb everything—then it reaches a limit of some sort—some invisible consumer-driven wall—and now SF is growing again with John Scalzi and Robert Charles Wilson and Michael Flynn and Ben Bova (who has been there all along) and Richard K. Morgan and there’s lots of good stuff to read.

 

And that’s what this blog is about—good stuff to read, old and new, with a slight lean toward the pulps, hence the blog name. But anything science fictional or fantastic is likely to show up here. Comments and guest blogs appreciated. “Gort…” now where did I leave that automaton?

PW

 

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