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Posts Tagged ‘reviews’

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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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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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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