Monthly Archives: June 2013

Still Reading Vance

In the past I’ve usually read Jack Vance in short spurts, but this time I’ve been on a huge binge and am still enjoying the prose. The whole exploration (and re-discovery in the case of Planet of Adventure) was unfortunately sparked by the author’s death.

I’ve just closed the last page on The Planet of Adventure omnibus and I found it just as difficult to set down as I had the first time, which really says something. It has  all the usual Vancian touches: fascinating cultures, religions, and philosophies, not to mention truly alien aliens. Protagonist Adam Reith isn’t that different from Vance’s other non-satirical protagonists (like Kirth Gersen, say) but his straightforward outlook and intelligence remain refreshing, not to mention his sense of decency, his bravery, and his loyalty to friends. And speaking of friends, one of the things I like about this sequence is that there is a cast of loyal companions. Vance’s protagonists are usually lone wanderers. There’s plenty of wandering on the planet Tschai, but Reith is usually with at least one of his friends.

Interestingly, I can’t believe I never noticed this before, but it is becoming more and more clear to me that Vance had a huge impact on the first big science fiction game, Traveller. Reith is a planetary Scout, and is a jack-of-all-trades and survival expert, just like the characters in Traveller‘s Imperial Scout service. There are Traveller’s aid hostels in the Alastor books, not to mention air rafts and, perhaps more importantly there’s the general feel of independent planets in a sector but a unified sector government. In Vance, as with Traveller, every planet is a potential adventure setting. Vance, then, was a huge influence not just on D&D (the fire and forget spells, the hand and eye of Vecna) but upon Traveller‘s default setting.

Kai Lung

Last week, both here and on Facebook, I mentioned my love for the works of Jack Vance and my new found appreciation of the Cugel stories, which had left me wanting 8 or 10 years previous.

Now I’m wishing that I hadn’t sold off my Ernest Bramah Kai Lung books. Earlier I had found the tone forced and a little twee — now I’m thinking my tastes have broadened a bit and that I might have missed out on something grand… and rather Cugel-like in some ways. Anyone out there have an opinion on the Kai Lung stories they want to share? I see that the first two collections are available from Project Gutenberg if anyone is truly curious, and I suppose I will turn there myself eventually.

John O’Neill will probably faint in horror, but I’ve actually been downsizing my book collection and getting rid of things I don’t think I’ll re-read (as I get older, the things I’m unlikely to re-read gets longer) and things I’m no longer interested in. Occasionally I regret my choices. It wouldn’t have taken up too much room to hold onto my two Kai Lung books from the old Ballantine Adult Fantasy line. I just thought that they weren’t to my taste. Now, as I’ve discovered that my tastes are widening, I think I’ll be a little more judicious about unloading books going forward.

If Ernest Bramah and Kai Lung aren’t familiar to you, there’s a wonderful essay about the books over at a site titled Here’s the link.

A Prayer for Heroes

I sat down the other evening with my wife and son for my second viewing of The 13th Warrior. I hadn’t seen it for a long while, and I discovered I enjoyed it just as much or more than I had the first time.

I was surprised to learn that it had only a 33% fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes and that it hadn’t done at all well in the cinema. It’s a very fine story of heroic adventure with comrades-in-arms, with some honest-to-goodness chills, thrills, and mystery. At least that’s my opinion. It’s one of the better heroic movies filmed in the last quarter century. God knows I’d rather watch it a few more times than, say, Conan the Destroyer. Apparently I’m out of step with the consensus. I flipped through the various negative reviews and shook my head at the comments and lack of appreciation. As an adventure story it does so many things right that many movies do wrong… but that’s not what makes it great. For all the in-your-face violence, much of what happens is understated, including character development and the themes of heroism.

Doing That Thing

Mostly that thing I’ve been doing is getting the house ready for two birthdays. Owing to my son’s immense high school homework load there was no real birthday gathering, so we’re readying for one shortly after my daughter’s, and both are taking place this weekend. Add that to the deadline run at the most recent Pathfinder book I finished and the mini-trip in the middle of the week, and I haven’t been able to get much done on other writing projects. That will change come Monday.

I did sit down and watch That Thing You Do with the family, and I liked it even more than I had the first time. What a fine little movie. And for all of us would-be 1960s rock stars, it provides just a little taste of what it might have been like to be a one-hit wonder.

I finished up Cugel’s Saga and then went straight into Rhialto the Marvelous, the fourth and final Dying Earth book. They were in an omnibus that’s been sitting on my shelf for 5 or 6 years, beside the two volumes of Jack Vance’s The Demon Princes. I’m now picking up the second volume of those, which I likewise set aside some years back after finishing volume 1. Who knew how excellent these treasures would be when I finally cracked them open? I suspected, but I didn’t know. I imagine I have some other treasures waiting to be opened on the shelves as well…

Tales of the Dying Earth

I’m away from home on a borrowed laptop, so I’ll keep this short. I just wanted to drop in and say how much I enjoyed the wrap-up of Jack Vance’s Cugel’s Saga, a novel contained in the orb omnibus Tales of the Dying Earth. I just finished it about a half hour ago on this mini-vacation, after slowly savoring it during the last month, and it was pretty marvelous… although keeping in line with previous comments I’ve made on my blog, I’m not sure younger Howard would have appreciated it as much.

I’m not sure if I’m ready for more Vance right away or not, but I enjoyed it so much I think I’ll stockpile some more for later reading. I see that there’s an Alastor omnibus, which I should probably explore before I re-read his Planet of Adventure series. I love Vance’s writing, though I usually tackle it in limited doses. I have a few standalones lying around the house, as well as some other series I’ve read or partially read.

Are any of my regular visitors Jack Vance fans? What are some not-miss titles? How do the Durdane books stack up?


The Beast is Off

To the races? Nay, Stalking the Beast is lumbering back to editor James Sutter at Paizo. Whew. I’m starting to feel pleased, although I’m also a bit dazed after the final push. Today, apart from a laborious spell check (a lot of words from Pathfinder aren’t recognized by the spell checker) I was mostly tweaking some really subtle things that will probably never get noticed. Getting them fixed made me feel better, at least.

I finally managed to win a crayon rail game, the first in probably the last ten I played against my brilliant wife, and the second time I played Martian Rails. Also, I pulled the one Leigh Brackett title card in the game near the last hand, as if the gods of Mars and random chance were operating in my favor. Nice. Father’s Day was pleasant, and included a slightly moist walk in some woods near our old house and a tasty lunch with fried oysters. Well, with the family, actually, but I ate fried oysters.

A Rise in Spam

I’m getting a rising number of spam comments — perhaps its because the site’s getting more hits. I’m a little baffled by them. They consist of two types.

1. Someone drops a comment in a thread about a product completely unrelated to the topic.

2. Someone drops a generic few phrases of praise in slightly incorrect English about how much they enjoyed the post, and the masterful way the topic is discussed.

I can’t quite figure out what spammers expect to get from the comments. NO ONE will ever buy a product or visit a page based on someone dropping in to a comment thread to advertise it. And why pretend to be involved in a thread? Is it so that we’ll visit the site attached to the comment, or so that the blog master or mistress will come to trust posts from that person, opening the door for more spam?

Strange and annoying.

Stalking the Martian Beast Rails

Click to enlarge. Barrakesh is near the bottom right side of the image.

As I wind down my edits on the second Paizo Pathfinder novel I’m looking forward to playing a new board game that arrived Tuesday. Regular visitors may recall I was selling off most of my board wargames after discovering Fields of Glory. I’ve put a little of the trade-in money towards purchases of inexpensive Fields of Glory expansions, and am stockpiling the rest for a new laptop… but I also picked up a copy of Martian Rails.

Writing of Ruins

Click to see a larger version.

This week I should be finished with my editorial changes on my second Paizo Pathfinder novel,  Stalking the Beast, which I’ve been working on steadily. Ideally I’ll have time to reach the final page then set it aside for a day or two so I can see the whole thing with fresh eyes right before I turn it over. I find that I miss things unless I can walk away from the work for a little while.

As I discussed the cover some months back with series editor James Sutter I chose a scene I thought would be dynamic. And I recall suggesting that perhaps there should be some ruins in the background. In the draft at that time, there were no ruins, but I never like taking my characters (or my readers) somewhere unless it’s interesting to look at, so it was something I intended to go back and correct. When the art came back, there were some pretty interesting ruins in the scene, so during the rewrite I’ve found myself modelling my descriptions on the artist’s depiction. Which reminds me, I still don’t know the cover artists’ name! I’ll have to write James and find out, because I’d like to thank him or her for the inspirational work.



Clock of St. James

Sticking with the theme of music, I thought I’d post the flip side of yesterday’s single. Like “The Tennessee Bird Walk” this is something I used to hear when I was 5 or 6 and hadn’t heard in decades. I recalled that it was strange and haunting.

Now, upon revisiting, I discover it’s still haunting. I see why it stuck with me.  I’ve never been that big a fan of country music, and it definitely has the country twang. It also is music of its era… which is, of course, to be expected.

What I like are that the lyrics are extremely evocative and tell a surprisingly vivid story of… well, I don’t want to give anything away. I’ll say at first, when the song is playing major chords, you think it’s just going to be the colorful description of a city, but by the third line the character of the narrative changes completely.

The background vocals on the chorus really push a dark, gothic feel, and the way the clock chime is worked into the end of the chorus is genius.

I liked it so well that I’m going to look into more work by Jack Blanchard & Misty Morgan and see if they have any other treasures. Anyway, here is “The Clock of St. James.”

In case anyone cares, my wife has continued to clean my clock while we were playing Iron Dragon. One day I will win again…