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Posts Tagged ‘books’

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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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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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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PZO8005-Cover.inddJames Enge, author of the new sword and sorcery novel Blood of Ambrose from Pyr, posted a truly excellent review of the Planet Stories edition of Henry Kuttner’s Robots Have No Tails yesterday. It’s the latest post on what is shaping up to be one of the more interesting pulp fiction blogs on the Intnernet, over at the homepage for Black Gate Magazine, which is probably the most pulp-like of any fiction magazine on the market today (which certainly makes it one of our favorites). I urge you to pop over and read James’s great review, but take a while and stick around for other insightful blog posts from a wide range of Black Gate authors and supporters.

As to the “perfect book”–the new issue from Paizo Press’ Planet Stories line, Henry Kuttner’s Robots Have No Tails, may not be perfect in some absolute sense (although it comes pretty close) but it’s certainly one that I and others have been looking forward to for years.

Thanks for the kind words, James! We’d love to publish more Henry Kuttner (I’m currently reading a great never-reprinted novel from Startling Stories that is just begging to be published). If you haven’t yet had a chance to check out Robots Have No Tails and would like to see more work by Henry Kuttner, please do pick up a copy! Your purchase could be the one that puts us over the top on getting more of his excellent work in print.

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In Praise of James Blish’s Star Trek adaptations

By Alex Bledsoe           StarTrek cover Blish 

I was a second-generation Star Trek fan.  I discovered the series in syndication between the end of the show’s network run in 1970 and the first movie’s release in 1979.  The reruns were broadcast on Channel 13 out of Memphis, usually the fuzziest of the three or four stations we could get out in the swamps.

 That’s an important bit of context.  We had no cable TV back then; instead, we had a thirty-foot aluminum antenna that someone, usually me, had to physically turn while someone else, usually my dad, shouted whether the picture was better or worse.  Weather determined a lot of what we watched: the ABC station in Jackson was closest, so its signal was strongest.  There was no other reason I would have ever watched that many episodes of The Love Boat.  More often than not, during an hour-long show like Trek, the signal would go in and out, reducing chunks of the episodes to snowy static.

Thank the Great Bird of the Galaxy, then, for James Blish.

Blish was already a noted science fiction author when he took on the task of novelizing episodes from the original series.  His Cities in Flight series, the Pantropy stories and many others had already placed him among the best serious SF writers of the Fifties and Sixties.  He even, according to Wikipedia, coined the term “gas giant.”

I’m not sure if Blish felt a special affinity for Trek, or if adapting the show was just a job.  But for a fans stuck is pre-internet isolation, these books were crucial.  There was no such thing as “home video” in any form; the best one could do (and I did) was make audiotapes of the episodes by holding a tape recorder up to the TV speaker.  For a lot of us, the Blish books were the only way to experience the episodes without being at the mercy of TV station programmers, our parents’ whims (“That show’s just weird!”) and the weather.

The first volume, originally published in 1967, presented seven episodes from the first season.  Although two of them got retitled (“Charlie X” was called “Charlie’s Law,” and “The Man Trap” retitled “The Unreal McCoy”), Blish did not do a hack job.  He brought his full writing skill to bear, translating the scripts into genuine prose and turning out short stories that, while not “original” in the true sense, nevertheless worked as literature. 

What writer wouldn’t envy this as an opening line:

When the Romulan outbreak began, Capt. James Kirk was in the chapel of the starship Enterprise, waiting to perform a wedding. (“Balance of Terror”)

Or,

Nobody, it was clear, was going to miss the planet when it did break up. (“The Naked Time”)

Even if you know nothing of Trek, these are grabbers.

In 1970 Blish also wrote the first original Trek novel, Spock Must Die!  It’s an odd read now, with the characters stiffly thrust into a hard-SF plot.  But it was the first genuinely new Trek adventure outside fan fiction.  It also gave me my first hints about how professional publishing works: the book’s editor, clearly no fan, changed McCoy’s nickname from “Bones” to “Doc” throughout, something Blish apologized for in an author’s note.

As the adaptations progressed, Blish became more faithful to the actual scripts.  I don’t know if this was a function of his health issues (he died of lung cancer in 1975 aged 54), or simply an attempt to give the readers what they really wanted: Star Trek at their fingertips.  Either way, it was my introduction to the details of Trek, and through Trek, to science fiction as a whole.  It allowed a nerdy teenage redneck in the swamps of west Tennessee to feel connected to something bigger than himself.  And without that connection, without the belief that there were more people like me out there, I wouldn’t have become the kind of writer I am.  So thanks again, Mr. Blish, for bringing that final frontier a bit closer.

Star Trek: The Next Generation

Star Trek: The Next Generation

 

Accompanying illustration 1: a photo of my original copy of the first Blish Trek, which I still have. Illustration 2: Bledsoe-The Next Generation

Alex Bledsoe grew up in west Tennessee an hour north of Graceland (home of Elvis) and twenty minutes from Nutbush (home of Tina Turner). His novels include The Sword-Edged Blonde and Blood Groove.

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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!

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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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