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Archive for the ‘Pulps’ Category

Erik’s Note: I recently composed this for my personal blog, Paperback Flash, but I figured it would also be interesting to readers of the official Planet Stories blog, since it’s about one of the most important books of one of our most important writers, C. L. Moore. Enjoy!

Judgment Night (1965)

Catherine Lucille Moore (1911 – 1987) was one of the finest fantasy and science fiction writers of the Pulp Era, contributing two characters of historical significance in the form of Jirel of Joiry, the first female sword & sorcery protagonist and Northwest Smith, a spacefaring scoundrel who very likely served as a template for Han Solo and Indiana Jones. Later, her collaborations with husband Henry Kuttner (often published under the byline Lewis Padgett) would go on to become bedrock classics of the genre. Moore is a member of the Science Fiction Hall of Fame, and her status as one of the grand masters of the pulps is a given.

I particularly enjoy her writing, which my friend Kenneth Hite once described as “Clark Ashton Smith on Cialis.” When I first encountered her lushly described, vivid prose, I immediately thought of H. P. Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith, though my reading in the last few years has traced this influence even farther back to Abraham Merritt, the giant of the early 20th century whose The Moon Pool and The Ship of Ishtar (among others) cast looming shadows over the Pulp Era. Moore’s use of language and many of her themes are perhaps best described as “Merrittesque,” though her stories often involve a sensual, in some cases barely disguised sexual element that makes them stand out from many of their staid contemporaries in the Pulp Era. Though her influences are clear, C. L. Moore is very much her own writer, and a great one at that.

Here’s an example of her writing style, in this case describing a gown specially designed for the lead character of Judgment Night, Juille, the heir to a powerful galactic empire in the days leading to its inevitable fall:

The best dress designer on Cyrille seemed to be a soft-voiced, willowy woman with the pink skin and narrow, bright eyes of a race that occupied three planets circling a sun far across the outskirts of the Galaxy. She exuded impersonal deftness. One felt that she saw no faces here, was aware of no personalities. She came into the room with a smooth, silent aloofness, her eyes lowered.

But she was not servile. In her own way the woman was a great artist, and commanded her due of respect.

The composition of the new gown took place before the mirrored alcove that opened from the bedroom. Helia, her jaw set like a rock, stripped off the smart military uniform which her mistress was wearing, the spurred boots, the weapons, the shining helmet. From beneath it a shower of dark-gold hair descended. Juille stood impassive under the measuring eyes of the newcomer, her hair clouding upon her shoulders.

Now she was no longer the sexless princeling of Lyonese. The steely delicacy was about her still, and the arrogance. But the long, fine limbs and the disciplined curves of her body had a look of waxen lifelessness as she stood waiting between the new personality and the old. She was aware of a certain embarrassed resentment, suddenly, at the step she was about to take. It was humiliating to admit by that very step that the despised femininity she had repudiated all her life should be important enough to capture now.

The quality of impassivity seemed to puzzle the artist, who stood looking at her thoughtfully.

“Is there any definite effect to be achieved?” she asked after a moment, speaking in the faintly awkward third person through which all employees upon Cyrille address all patrons.

Juille swallowed a desire to answer angrily that there was not. Her state of mind confused even herself. This was her first excursion into incognito, her first conscious attempt to be—feminine; she disdained that term. She had embraced the amazon cult too wholeheartedly to admit even to herself just what she wanted or hoped from this experiment. She could not answer the dresser’s questions. She turned a smoothly muscular shoulder to the woman and said with resentfulness she tried to conceal even from herself:

“Nothing … nothing. Use your own ingenuity.”

The dresser mentally shot a keen glance upward. She was far too well-trained actually to look a patron in the face; but she had seen the uniform this one had discarded, she saw the hard, smooth symmetry of the body and from it understood enough of the unknown’s background to guess what she wanted and would not request. She would not have worked her way up a long and difficult career from and outlying planet to the position of head designer on Cyrille if she had lacked extremely sensitive perception. She narrowed her already narrow eyes and pursed speculative lips. This patron would need careful handling to persuade her to accept what she really wanted.

“A thought came to me yesterday,” she murmured in her soft, drawling voice—she cultivated the slurred accent of her native land—”while I watched the dancers on Dullai Lake. A dark gown, full of shadows and stars. I need a perfect body to compose it on, for even the elastic paint of undergarments might spoil my effect.” This was not strictly true, but it served the purpose. Juille could accept the gown now not as romance personified, but as a tribute to her own fine body.

“With permission, I shall compose that gown,” the soft voice drawled, and Juille nodded coldly.

The dresser laid both hands on a section of wall near the alcove and slid back a long panel to disclose her working apparatus. Juille stared in frank enchantment and even Helia’s feminine instincts, smothered behind a military lifetime, made her eyes gleam as she looked. The dresser’s equipment had evidently been moved into place behind the sliding panel just before her entrance, for the tall rack at one end of the opening still presented what must have been the color-selection of the last patron. Through a series of level slits the ends of almost countless fabrics in every conceivable shade of pink showed untidily. Shelves and drawers spilled more untidiness. Obviously, this artist was great enough to indulge her whims even at the expense of neatness.

She pressed a button now and the pink rainbow slid sidewise and vanished. Into its place snapped a panel exuding ends of blackness in level parallels—satin that gleamed like dark water, the black smoke of gauzes, velvet so soft it looked charred, like black ash.

The dresser moved so swiftly and deftly that her work looked like child’s play, or magic. She chose an end of dull silk and reeled out yard after billowing yard through the slot, slashed it off recklessly with a razor-sharp blade, and like a sculptor modeling in clay, molded the soft, thick stuff directly upon Juille’s body, fitting it with quick, nervous snips of her scissors and sealing the edges into one another. In less than a minute Juille was sheathed from shoulder to ankle in a gown that fitted perfectly and elastically to her skin, outlining every curve of her body and falling in soft, rich folds about her feet.

The dresser kicked away the fragments of discarded silk and was pulling out now such clouds and billows of pure shadow as seemed to engulf her in fog. Juille almost gasped as the cloud descended upon herself. It was something too sheer for cloth, certainly not a woven fabric. The dresser’s deft hand touched lightly here and there, sealing the folds of cloud in place. In a moment or two she stepped back and gestured toward the mirror.

Juille turned. This tall unknown was certainly not herself. The hard, impersonal, perfect body had suddenly taken on soft, velvet curves beneath the thick soft fabric. All about her, floating out when she moved, the shadowy billows of dimness smoked away in drapery so adroitly composed that it seemed an arrogance in itself.

“And now, one thing more,” smiled the dresser, pulling out an untidy drawer. “This—” She brought out a double handful of sequins like flashing silver dust and strewed them lavishly in the folds of floating gauze. “Turn,” she said, and Juille was enchanted to see the tiny star points cling magnetically to the cloth except for a thin, fine film of them that floated out behind her and twinkled away to nothing in midair whenever she moved.

Juille turned back to the mirror. For a moment more this was a stranger whose face looked back at her out of shining violet eyes, a face with the strength and delicacy of something finely made of steel. It was arrogant, intolerant, handsome as before, but the arrogance seemed to spring now from the knowledge of beauty.

And then she knew herself in the mirror. Only the gown was strange, and her familiar features looked incongruous above it. For the first time in her life Juille felt supremely unsure of herself. Not even the knowledge that the very stars in the Galaxy were subject to her whim could help that feeling now. She drew a long breath and faced herself in the mirror resolutely.

So far, Planet Stories has reprinted collections of C. L. Moore’s two most popular characters, Jirel of Joiry in Black God’s Kiss and Northwest Smith in Northwest of Earth: The Complete Northwest Smith. Reviews for both collections have been very positive, somewhat surprising for fiction that is closing in on being eight decades old.

A lot of the reviews highlight a specific weakness of her Jirel and Smith stories, a stylistic nuance that becomes much more pronounced when all of a given character’s adventures are collected in the same volume. The problem is this: Although Moore’s worlds are vividly realized, and her use of language and beauty of structure easily set these tales apart as classics, her classic characters don’t really do much of anything in the stories themselves. Rather, they watch as something very interesting happens to other people. They often emerge victorious against their enemies by tapping some inner strength or reserve, or taking some internal journey. Though Jirel comes armed with a sword and Northwest Smith packs his trusty heat gun, the weapons usually remain holstered and the stories are more psychological horror that action adventure.

Not so here, in Judgment Night which almost seems to have been written in reaction to that specific criticism. Far from a wallflower, Juille spends the last several chapters of the book literally blowing apart an entire planet with an unthinkably powerful super-gun. It’s a thrilling cat-and-mouse scene filled with carnage, collapsing buildings, and all sorts of entertaining mayhem.

Originally written as a two-part serial in 1943’s Astounding (edited by that titan of early SF, John W. Campbell, Jr.), Judgment Night came 10 years after Moore’s Weird Tales debut, when most of the Jirel and NWS stories were already behind her. It’s a transitional piece, of sorts, bridging the early era populated largely by her Jirel and Smith stories and her later material (much of it also published by Campbell) written in collaboration with her future husband, Henry Kuttner (the two were married in 1940, but this story shows very little if any Kuttner influence and has never been credited to him).

The legendary Gnome Press published a hardcover edition of Judgment Night in 1952, complete with an effective cover from Frank Kelly Freas. That edition also included the short stories “Paradise Street,” “Promised Land,” “The Code,” and “Heir Apparent,” a good selection of Moore’s non-series character, non-Kuttner material. The 1965 Paperback Library version I read (pictured above) lacks these stories, focusing only on the title tale.

Although I like the Gnome Press edition and the other tales included therein are worthy additions to Moore’s canon, Judgment Night easily stands on its own as a great classic of Pulp Era science fiction.

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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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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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While the “next week” big announcement for Planet Stories looks like it’s going to get shoved off another week until we can get the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game out the door, I did want to drop by with a number of updates regarding recent Planet Stories happenings that will interest readers of this blog.

Cover illustration by Andrew Hou

Cover illustration by Andrew Hou

1. I am very pleased to announce that the Planet Stories edition of Gary Gygax’s Infernal Sorcress has been nominated for the “Best Fiction” Origins Award. The nominees are decided upon by the Academy of Adventure Gaming Arts and Design (read: game designers and publishers) and retailers attending the recent GAMA Trade Show. The winners will be decided by the attendees of the Origins Game Fair in Columbus, Ohio in late June.

The Origins Awards are the longest-running awards in the game industry, and it is an honor to be nominated.

Infernal Sorceress came out last August, and got pretty good penetration into chain bookstores, but I’ve noticed that most stores have stopped restocking the book. If you have yet to read this epic fantasy novel—the very last written by D&D creator Gary Gygax—you can still pick it up from the Paizo.com online store.

paizod20_bigger2. We’ve been pulled into the Twitterverse! After resisting what seemed like a pointless service for months and months, we finally broke down and set up new Twitter accounts at @paizo (for mostly game-related postings) and @planetstoriesTM (for Planet Stories-related posts). Both accounts have already drawn an impressive number of followers, and we urge you to join in the conversation!

3. Senior Editor Pierce Watters is in his homeland of Texas this week. In between sales calls, he managed to have lunch with Michael Moorcock to discuss future Planet Stories projects. What could possibly come of that? Stay tuned for some unbelievably cool news on that front, true believers!

Original cover to 1952 Gnome Press edition.

Original cover to 1952 Gnome Press edition.

4. Henry Kuttner’s Robots Have No Tails went to the printer yesterday, and I predict that many jaws will hit the floor when readers finally get a look at this new edition of what may be some of Kuttner’s very finest work. Let’s just say that there are significant differences in presentation with this book when compared to previous Planet Stories editions. The “next week” announcement will cover these changes, so please do keep in touch.

Cover of 1948 Fantastic Novels edition.

Cover of 1948 Fantastic Novels edition.

With that book on the press, the editorial staff has moved on to A. Merritt’s The Ship of Ishtar, which will feature a fabulous new cover from artist Kieran Yanner and interior art by an artist near and dear to most fans of fantasy from the pulp era. I can’t be more specific until a certain contract has been signed, but let’s just say that A. Merritt’s fiction is at its best when accompanied by the work of a particular artist, and we will continue in that proud tradition with our new edition!

cimmerian_banner

5. Speaking of A. Merritt’s The Ship of Ishtar, many thanks to the superlative Robert E. Howard-focused blog The Cimmerian for giving a shout-out to the forthcoming release of this pivotal work in the field of sword & sorcery. Of all the authors I’ve “discovered” since setting out to publish the best out-of-print fantasy in Planet Stories, Merritt is perhaps my favorite. His influence on the writing style of H. P. Lovecraft and C. L. Moore in particular is undeniable, and it is a shame that modern readers are not more familiar with his work. I’m trying to do something about that, and with the help of allies like The Cimmerian, I think there’s a good chance that old Abraham Merritt might just find a new audience.

Oh, and once we announce the interior art details, the folks at The Cimmerian will no doubt feel very self-assured with their declaration of the Planet Stories edition as “the best edition of The Ship of Ishtar between two covers ever“.

Oh, yes.

Much more to come!

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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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