Posted in Misplaced writers.

Misplaced Writers: C.L.Moore

First, you have to read a great deal of the works you enjoy most. Much of it will be useless. But the trusty unconscious can be relied on to make lots of unseen notes, just in case. Mine did not fail me.  Afterword: Footnote to Shambleau by C.L. Moore

Okay, I’m beginning to realise that there are some pretty serious gaps in my reading history. Gaps that just shouldn’t be there. Gaps that I wish someone had pointed out and encouraged me to fill as I was growing up. So I’m here now, listing the writers I’ve recently discovered and telling you why you should read them. I’m calling them Misplaced Writers because somehow they seem to have lost their rightful place in the history of Science Fiction and Fantasy.

C.L.Moore is top of that list. For reasons I don’t really understand Moore wasn’t included within Appendix N, despite her stories being chock full of fantasy goodness. To prove my point I’m going to look at a pair of stories you can find in ‘The Best of C.L. Moore‘ I liked one and loved the other, and in doing so learned more about myself than I knew before. How many times can you say that after reading a story?

Shambleau begins this collection of tales, and I was hooked from the very first sentence:

Man has conquered space before.

Seriously, talk about a getting a grip on your reader! That’s all it took, I was hooked. Moore then takes you on a ride, and it’s not the one you were expecting to go on. It’s seductive, the language is languid and liquid until it sets as hard as the carbonite they enclosed Northwest in. Did I say Northwest? I meant Han. I mean, it’s not like they’re essentially the same character or anything. Clear differences. You know, for trademark reasons obviously. The story is a great bait and switch, and I enjoyed it immensely.

Northwest is a great hero, but Shambleau is the one that really stands out. Now you can have a great setting with vivid description and vibrant mythmaking and I won’t pay the slightest attention to it if I don’t care for your main characters. For me, it has to be the lead front and centre. If you get them right, then I’ll take a closer look at the rest of what you’ve written. Hell, I’ve read everything Andy Mcnab has put out based purely on his Nick Stone character. Same goes for Scott Mariani and his Ben Hope. (Their days are numbered though, the stories they tell are weak beer compared to the good stuff I’ve been working through).

I digress. Shambleau was so well drawn that I could see her, picture her clearly in my minds eye and I understood her motivations. Moore managed to make the alien relatable. And she did it with her very first story. How can you not admire that? The story, though short feels long and that’s purely through the word choice. It’s subtle and clever and any self-respecting writer should go over it a few times to see just how she manages it. Honestly, I liked Shambleau a great deal. I didn’t love it though. The reason is a simple one. Right now, at this point in my life I’m just grokking fantasy more.

Which brings me to…duh duh duuuuh:

paizo_black_gods_kissAh, Jirel of Joiry, red head of my dreams. Moore introduces her in The Black Gods Kiss like this:

Guillaume scarcely heard her. He was still staring, as most men stared when they first set eyes upon Jirel of Joiry. She was tall as most men, and as savage as the wildest of them, and the fall of Joiry was bitter enough to break her heart as she stood snarling curses up at her tall conqueror. The face above her mail might not have been fair in a woman’s head-dress, but in the steel setting of her armor it had a biting, sword-edge beauty as keen as the flash of blades. The red hair was short upon her high, defiant head, and the yellow blaze of her eyes held fury as a crucible holds fire. 

Now I can believe that this woman is a kick ass hero. Then Moore goes and throws in a trip to a parallel world, my own favourite kind of story! Ye gods I was in heaven. It reminded of Dunsany, the way that his characters start off somewhere we know, and then, shortly after taking a left turn on the way out of London end up somewhere else. Dunsanys characters, at least the ones that I read and believe me I’m no expert, went to these lands to steal, to take something that didn’t belong to them. Jirel goes to find a weapon, one that will regain her the Kingdom.

She gets it too.

On the way is some of the tightest writing I’ve ever come across. Whoever said that Pulp Era authors were verbose was talking out of his ass. I challenge anyone to find a single extraneous word in either story, knowing full well that you won’t find one. Moore was just too good a writer and like Merritt, Haggard and Brackett a natural storyteller. It begins with the character, giving her serious motivations for her actions and then uses them to drive her onwards. Through Hell itself.

Literally.

The description is tight, suffocatingly so at times. The plot is just as tight, nobody does anything just because. The outcome is inevitable and horrible and so damned sad, you feel for Jirel as she does her dark deed. Every character is pitch perfect, the good are good, the bad are evil and if Guilliame is neither that’s just good writing. I loved this story, I read it in one go, without stopping for anything until it came to conclusion. I then spent a couple of quid and bought the collected stories of Jirel, and enjoyed them equally.

After all that, why do I wish I’d read Moore earlier? Because I’d be a much better writer today if I had. Pacing is everything when it comes to a story and Moore had better pacing than just about anyone else out there. Merritt was better, perhaps but a case can be made either way. If I’d read Moore as a kid rather than King, for example, I think I’d have grown up with a much harsher view of his meandering ways.

That’s all for now, thanks for reading

Take care

Dean

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Appendix N Challenge: Lest Darkness Fall by L. Sprague De Camp.

The first time travel tale I remember reading was Mark Twains’ ‘A Connecticut Yankee at the court of King Arthur. I’d just finished reading Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn and honestly thought I was getting more of the same. Yeah, I was wrong. My grandparents were keen on the classics, at least the ones that they thought were, and so Jules Verne, H.G.Wells, and John Wyndham quickly followed. There’s always something special about your first though isn’t there?

There’s a lot to like about a good time-travel story. At school, we had to read Bradburys’ A Sound of Thunder’ with the recommendation that we search out Moorcocks ‘Behold the Man’. Both are, at the heart, quite bleak, though in very different ways and both leave you pondering. Pondering is a good thing. I haven’t bothered reading either since Mr. Andersons English class. Preferable to either, at least as far as I was concerned however was the excellent Flesh, providing a very alternative reason for the dinosaurs dying out. Man, I loved 2000AD.

Which, via a circuitous route brings me to L. Sprague de Camp. Now I’d read de Camp before, there’s only so much Conan you can read before you’re reading him and you don’t even know it. Lest Darkness Fall was new to me though, which is weird when you consider its reputation as a classic. I guess it just goes to show that such status is rarely given quickly, and often taken away even faster.

*SPOILERS!!!*

The idea is simple enough, ‘man is sent back in time courtesy of handwavium, changes things’ Well, there were bits in this that I really enjoyed, and others…well not so much. The history, both of the time and the heroes pre-inventions, was cracking. The dialogue, well, not so much. Overall though, I would recommend the book to anyone as nothing in here is so painfully bad that it’s unreadable.

De Camp is possibly the weakest writer in Appendix N that I’ve come across so far. When you consider his competition is Lovecraft, Brackett, Merritt and Howard there’s no shame in that. Lest Darkness Fall just isn’t as tight, plotwise, as the others would have made it. The battle scenes could have come directly from an academic journal, there’s no real passion there, no real feel for the hell of a war fought between men with the most basic of weapons. The social disruption of inventions placed centuries before their time is left completely unexplored.

He doesn’t get back either.

De Camps characterisation was a joy though, each of the major, and most minor characters were drawn wonderfully. Simple tricks, repeating of key phrases or turns of phrase were used to wonderful effect and I have no doubt that I’ll be able to remember them for years to come. His romantic entanglements are amusing, mainly because of his attempts to get out of them! There are lots of neat little bits dotted throughout the story, moments that make you smile as you read them. Like when someone takes an arrow to the…kidney.

I liked it. I think it could have been better, but what do I know?

That’s all for now though, lil buddy wants to watch her new Power Puff movie. That’s right, I’m corrupting a three-year-old. Sue me.

Take care guys.

Dean

Posted in Appendix N Challenge

Appendix N Challenge: The Dunwich Horror by H.P. Lovecraft.

I had no idea that Lovecraft had an impact on AD&D, but on reflection, it shouldn’t really have come as a surprise. How could his tales of men versus monsters, gods, and their own sanity not have played their part in its creation? Looking back, it makes perfect sense.

Now, I came across Call of Cthulu before I’d even heard of Howard Philips Lovecraft and his Mythos. One of my few friends was keen to run an investigation and as the alternative was Chivalry and Sorcery I decided to give it a go. C&S was a goodish game, but it ain’t no AD&D, know what I’m saying.

To cut a long story short I hated CoC.

You play a game where you always end up insane? Are you kidding me? My character, a former soldier lost the plot the very first time he encountered the mythos. Committed suicide. Bummer, amirite? Out of spite, I decided to start reading the stories, just to see if this was common. Turns out that it was. Who knew?

I liked those stories. I was a lonely, awkward nerd with very few friends so of course, I liked those stories. They spoke to me, in a language that was dense, sinuous and oblique. I got it though, and that made me feel special. Believe me, at the time I took anything I could get. The very first story I ever read was The Dunwich Horror, and so it was an obvious choice to have a second look at for the challenge. You know the drill guys: Spoilers ahead!

You know the drill guys: Spoilers ahead!

The story is a simple one that’s as old as time itself. Girl meets Outer God, Outer God gets her pregnant, she delivers twins. One is normal-ish, except for the rapid aging, increased intellect, and extreme body hair issues. Oh, and his desire to learn all he can of the Mythos’s forbidden lore. Well, you would wouldn’t you when your pops is an Outer God. The other is a foul abomination that puts all life on earth at risk.

The story luxuriates in its descriptions and Lovecraft never uses one word when three will do, and I like that. Not everything needs to be fast and to the point, not if you can carry it off and Lovecraft could. His imagery left images in my mind that have been there since I was a young man, etched indelibly it would seem. By rereading, I realized that the imagery in my mind from all those years ago, whether it was of the major or minor characters was still true after all this time, there was no disconnect at all.

The story is unusual for one of Lovecrafts’. The heroes defeat the abomination for a start, and only one of them goes insane. That’s right, it has a happy ending. And you thought Lovecraft was all doom and gloom! The good guys’ win and the bad guys die and it’s the intellectuals that pull it off. There’s magic aplenty, more mystic lore than you can shake a stick at and rereading has made me determined to read the stories that I’ve missed.

I might even give Call of Cthulhu another go, but only if I can give it an R.E.Howard twist. There’s only so many times you can go mad.

That’s it, for now, guys, thanks for reading

Take care

Dean

Posted in Appendix N Challenge

Appendix N Challenge: Almuric by Robert E Howard

Okay, let’s deal with the obvious first. Nope, I’m not doing Conan. Why? Because I’ve read Howards Conan continuously since I was 14 years old, and it’s more than fair to say that I’m a fanboy. Conan is my go-to place when I need the equivalent of comfort food and can lift my mood whenever I need it to.

So I want to look elsewhere, at other pieces of Howards’ work, where I might be able to be a tad more critical, which is how I came to Almuric. Let’s face it, I had a lot to choose from, Howard put the Pro into prolific. You name a genre he had a go at writing in it, and if he wasn’t the best, he was certainly always right up there.

Like I said, I’m a fanboy.

Okay, as always, from this point on there will be spoilers.Almuric is another man-transported tale.

Almuric is another man-transported tale. The hero, a man born out of his time has to escape from the authorities here on earth. He’s sent to another planet using an excellent piece of handwavium. Once there he not only survives but thrives, beating the elements first and the natives next. The fight to survive, to continue existing improves him physically, making him more than he could ever have hoped to be on Earth while knocking the rough edges of civilization off him, returning him to an almost primordial state.

And yet he remains a hero. The story gets a lot more interesting once he reencounters humanity. Imprisoned, he fights, then gains the chance to win his freedom and more by fighting again. The skills he’s learned on Earth stand him in good stead,

The story gets a lot more interesting once he reencounters humanity. Imprisoned, he fights, then gains the chance to win his freedom and more by fighting again. The skills he’s learned on Earth stand him in good stead,

The story gets a lot more interesting once he reencounters humanity. Imprisoned, he fights, then gains the chance to win his freedom and more by fighting again. Given the opportunity to fight dirty he sticks to the rules, fights as a hero should. Honour is everything, once again – and I really can’t emphasize this enough as it seems to be the overarching truth about the greats from this period – there are no shades of gray. There is nothing that makes you feel bad about rooting for the hero because you know, you know hes on the side of the Gods.

An element that I found interesting, especially as it ties in with a lot of what is going on in the world today, is the idea that membership of a nation is to be earned. It’s a truism that something given for free will be treated as though it had no value, and by the time Esau is made a Kothian you know that he really values being a part of the tribe. Food for thought.

The story is straightforward. Boy meets girl, girl gets captured, boy has to save her. Along the way, we meet enemies of a diverse nature. All succumb to our hero. Some of the enemies are more fantastical than others, none of them Dunsany fantastical, but plenty weird enough thank you! A fight against a giant spider is worthy of special mention, nightmare inducing as it was. There’s an unending succession of foes until he finally achieves victory, each one tougher than the rest, and as always it’s a satisfying meal to be had. By the end, you can’t help but feel pride in the earthman who overcomes and wins. Go home team.

Almuric isn’t as good as the Conan stories. I don’t think Howard loved him as much if I’m honest. There is a sadness to the tale, an undercurrent of loneliness that is pervasive, colouring all it touches. The following lines touched me deeply, words perhaps straight from Howards’ heart.

“Life is too hard for me. I do not fit, somehow, as the others do. I bruise myself on its rough edges. I look for something that is not and never was.”

Or maybe I’m just a sentimental silly old sod.

That’s all for now, as always thanks for reading.

Take care

Dean

Posted in Appendix N Challenge

Appendix N Challenge: John the Balladeer by Manly Wade Wellman.

I wasn’t originally going to write about Wellman today. My initial plan had been to write about Almeric by R.E Howard, but after reading a great post over at Castalia House by HP (You can find it here) I changed my mind. There probably isn’t another author who has affected me on as deep a level as Wellman, almost down to the DNA if I’m honest. What really got to me was a weird synchronicity in our lives; the repercussions of an accident. HP writes “Where Did She Wander? by the way, was the last story Wellman ever wrote.  After writing it, he fell and broke his shoulder and elbow to shit.”

Back in 2008, I was working in a school, part teacher, part mentor, part enforcer. There was a fight on the school fields so I went running. A kid got in my way and rather than trample him underfoot I swerved. Lost my footing, went flying and went shoulder first into a metal gate. Broke my collar bone, shoulder, and upper left arm into so many pieces they couldn’t put it back together again. The outcome was almost amputation, and there have been times when I wish it had been truth be told. Instead, I got cold steel put into my arm and shoulder and constant pain ever since. I’m still alive though and believe me, an inch the other way and I wouldn’t be. So I guess I have an inkling just what Wellman went through. Just an inkling though, the guy was much older than I am now. In a strange way, this inspires me though. If he can go through that and still carry on writing then I’m damn sure I can.

 

I don’t remember the title of the Manly Wade Wellman book I read under the blankets of my bed in the winter of 1978. For the longest time, I couldn’t even remember the names of the stories. The memory of John, Silver John never faded though, and, unbeknownst to my waking rational mind became the yardstick against which all further heroes were judged. Random lines would return unbidden, always at appropriate times such as when I met Mark Calloway:

“Genesis giant blood,” I repeated him, remembering the Book, sixth chapter of Genesis. “‘There were giants in the earth in those days.'”

Yeah, that guy is pure Genesis blood!

I was in love with the elements that make John’s Tales before I was able to understand what they were. The biblical references for a start obviously. Then the elements of lore that reference both American and American Indian mythology. The lyrical use of dialect that never feels intrusive (anyone who thinks that Wellman had a tin ear needs their head examining!) and is a joy to read.

Good versus evil. Every single story revolves around this, the most basic dichotomy, as all honest stories must. There’s no space for shades of gray, no moral relativism here, bad is punished, good is rewarded and darkness is always pulled out into the light. Wellman does it without preaching, without forcing anything down your throat, it just underscores every word he writes. It’s refreshing, like a shower after wallowing in too much mud.

Take this next part, from The Desrick on Yandro. One paragraph long and so much horror in there. It reaches in and nestles itself in the gray matter and sets up home in your mind, ready to come out when you least want it to. I’ve bitched about this before, but too many writers think that the correct way to do this is page after page of set up. They’re wrong. Take a lesson from a master and learn the art of brevity. Wedded to the sentence structure that’s as sweet as beautifully written music, this is writing at a level that few seem capable of now.

There were mountain night noises, like you never get used to, not even if you’re born and raised there, and live and die there. Noises too soft and sneaky to be real murmuring voices. Noises like big flapping wings far off and then near. And, above and below the trail, noises like heavy soft paws keeping pace with you, sometimes two paws, sometimes four, sometimes many. They stay with you, noises like that all the hours you grope along the night trail, all the way down to the valley so low, till you bless God for the little crumb of light that means a human home, and you ache and pray to get to that home, be it ever so humble, so you’ll be safe in the light.

My last choice is from Who Fears the Devil, just a quick piece that really underscores everything I like about Wellman. The projector in my skull cinema has everything that it needs to create a Triple A blockbuster. In short, the writer isn’t treating me like an idiot, is letting me fill in whatever gaps he’s left.

Genius.

But I didn’t run. To run nair had helped me much in such a case. I’d stand my ground, fight. If I lost the fight, maybe Hallcott could get away and tell the tale. I bent my knees and made my legs springly, I hoped I could move faster and surer than those big, lumbering bones.

If the only thing you take away from anything I write on Appendix N, then let this be it. Read Wellman. Read his Silver John stories; here, I’ll even provide a link where you can read them for free. Once you’ve read those, search out his other stuff, it’s all good.

As always, thanks for taking the time to read this. If you’d like to leave a comment feel free to do so, all (reasonable) opinions are welcome here.

Take care

Dean

Posted in Appendix N Challenge

Appendix N Challenge: The Book of Wonder by Lord Dunsany

Okay, I’ll start with an apology. I realized a little too late this weekend that I really should have read The King of Elfland’s Daughter rather than this collection of short stories as an example of Lord Dunsanys work. That being said, I’m going to circle back and read that one later, so there’ll definitely be a second review of Dunsany coming your way. Oh lucky you, amirite?!?

Charming. It’s the best word that I could find to describe this collection of short stories. Dunsany writes with an elegance that I found very similar to Bellairs with a voice that’s very pleasing to the inner ear. The imagery was always striking, created with broad yet deft strokes something a lot of today’s ‘popular’ authors seem to have forgotten how to do.

An example? In the story ‘Probable adventure of the Three Literary Men’, he has them killed by a “shocking light” described thusly;

For a moment it might have been an ordinary light, fatal as even that could very well be at such a moment as this; but when it began to follow them like an eye and to grow redder and redder as it watched them, then even optimism despaired.

So much said in a single paragraph. Tell me that’s not elegance. And you can find its equal in every single story.

This is fantasy at the wellsprings head, ideas, and motifs that needed to be out there to inspire other writers. To plant the seeds so to speak. Seriously, if you’re a writer and you haven’t read this guy there’s a massive part of your education missing. Yes, he jumps around idea-wise like a kid with ADHD sometimes, but you get used to it. Think of it as learning a new language.

The language of fantasy perhaps.

Enjoyment wise Dunsany isn’t a patch on Merritt or Brackett, I did find myself taking regular breaks to read a bit more Haggard or an episode of Killjoys. This wasn’t a collection for quaffing that’s for sure. You sip and think and wonder and if you’re lucky connections are made in your mind. Reading it as a writer a huge amount can be learned about style, elegance, and brevity, getting the story across as quickly as possible. Attributes that seem to have been lost recently in an era of bloated epics.

Just a short one today, well it is a bank holiday! I’m off to play make-believe with my Lil Buddy.

Take care, and thanks for reading

Dean

Posted in Appendix N Challenge

Appendix N Challenge: The Sword of Rhiannon by Leigh Brackett.

 

There are moments in my reading life that are etched into my memory, the emotions that I felt while reading them still clear as a bell even after many, many years have gone past. I remember as a kid, eight years old, living with his dad in Australia, a copy of a book of stories by Manley Wade Wellman. I remember reading it under the covers with a torch and being whisked away to the Appalachian mountains to travel the roads with Silver Strings John. Then at twelve, back home in England, reading a copy of The Shining, feeling the terror of the little boy while wishing that I too had psychic powers and could see dead people. At fourteen I discovered Robert E Howards Conan The Adventurer and the Lands of Hyborea beckoned and how I longed to be barbarian, a decent man among worthless civilised scum. The list goes on, the authors growing fewer and further between. The last, before discovering Appendix N, was Octavia Butler just over a year ago. I loved her Pattern Master stories. Maybe it wasn’t with the depth of Howard or Wellman, but you can’t expect that at 40+ can you?

Life just doesn’t work like that.

Then I started reading Merritt, and something within me awakened. I read Burroughs and it stretched. And then I read Leigh Brackett and it woke up, slapped me silly and reminded me that I was alive godammit and that worlds of wonder were still out there, begging to be found and brought back into being once more. Ye Gods, it felt amazing.

But why?

You know what’s coming, SPOILERS AHEAD folks!

Now, there are in this world writers. People that put words on the page to create fiction. Some of them are good, some of them are great but the best of them, the very very best of them, are Storytellers. Leigh Brackett was a storyteller in every ounce of her being. This is abundantly clear in The Sword of Rhiannon. I read it through in two hours. Then again in three, paying much closer attention. Then, yesterday I took it apart, examined it like a mechanic lucky enough to work on Ferrari. The story is a thing of beauty, it has a life of its own and every piece of it works perfectly.

Brackett takes her hero and puts him through the mill. Sealed in a tomb, sent back millions of years in time, where he is then attacked by a mob, robbed and then press-ganged onto a ship. And that’s all in the first quarter of the book. There is no time wasted, Brackett takes your hand and drags you along with Carse all along his journey and she never, ever makes him seem safe because he’s the hero. He’s up that tree and the rocks are coming thick and fast.

The villain of the piece is a kingdom wrapped up in a person, Lady Ywain. Again, Brackett doesn’t go the easy route and make her a central casting villain. Nope, more fleshing out, consistency and reasoning behind everything she does. She’s a strong woman doing bad things because that’s what you do when your kingdom is relying on you. Her journey is every bit as fascinating as Carses, and every bit as satisfying when you reach the destination.

Stand out bits? The God Rhiannon setting up camp in Carses mind. Boghaz the shameless thief. The internal consistency of the time-related mechanics. The end scene that leaves you wanting and wishing that this was a series. The way that the dialogue whips and snaps along at a hundred miles an hour, with literally nothing to take you out of the moment.

Everything is so clearly written that it is literally a joy to read. I can honestly say that I will be reading everything of Brackett’s that I can find. And, seeing as how I can’t watch this on the big screen, I’ll be watching El Dorado instead. Apparently, it’s the one with John Wayne, and not the animated one. Who knew?

Who knew?

Thanks for letting me bend your ear once again,

Take care

Dean

 

Posted in Appendix N Challenge

Appendix N Challenge: The Face in the Frost by John Bellairs

Where to begin with this one?

Some books are easy to read, they just slide down like a can of Monster on a hot day. Other books seem to have a density that forces you to take your time, to savor them like a really, really good cup of coffee. The Face in the Frost, for me, was definitely the latter. Every page had a gem on it somewhere, a casual throwback, callback or switchback that took my mind somewhere else and I both enjoyed and admired that.

This book is dense, it has meat. It’s easy to get lost amongst the wordplay as something gets caught in your mind and sends you scurrying to see if your right. If you’ve read this you know what I mean! It means that despite being a slim 170-ish pages long it’s quite labor intensive to read. I found it more enjoyable to read it in bursts of two/three chapters and let the imagery swish around in the old skull cinema than attempt an in one go reading.

You know what’s coming, spoilers ahead.

The story is a simple quest. Something evil is loose in the world and the heroes, a pair of magicians have to do something about it. Bellairs uses the friendship, and threats to it, of the two mages to add just a little more tension and when needed, relief. There’s so much magic on display here, it’s almost as if Bellairs had read The Golden Bough and wanted to put everything in it. Hex’s charms, cantrips, and world-shaping spells all make an appearance at some point and it all feels right.

There is a darkness within the story that creeps up on you, elements of horror that occur to you as you’re laying in bed at night trying to think of other things. It’s not the in your face crassness of slasher movies, more like the unsettling imagery of a Shirley Jackson or HPL. It’s so casually done too, a master of prose putting it in because he can and, like his magic, it fits.

There’s a good deal of world-building within the story. It manages to feel like both England and America at the same time and brought to mind the fantasy elements within The Talisman by King and Straub. That he managed to do that within such limited space is remarkable. He uses elegance to paint the picture with broad strokes and then add just a few little dabs of colour to draw your eye to what he wants you to see. It’s a rare gift to be sure, and I’d recommend anyone with aspirations to write to read this and learn.

The ending is satisfying and you’re left with the feeling that all is okay with the world, and that’s pretty much all you can ask for in a book. There’s nothing that leaves a bad taste in your mouth at the end, evil is thwarted, by itself to a large extent as one of the characters acknowledges.

All in all, I enjoyed this book, and I’d recommend it to anyone who fancies a fantasy that is actually what it says on the tin. It’s not a perfect book by any stretch of the imagination but it is a very, very good book and you will feel better for having read it.

That’s all, for now, guys, on Friday I’ll be giving my thoughts on Leigh Brackett’s The Sword of Rhiannon.

Remember to take care out there

Dean

Edit: I’ve just spent an evening completely lost in The Sword of Rhiannon. Quite simply some of the best writing I’ve ever been priviged to read.

 

Posted in Appendix N Challenge

Appendix N Challenge: Three Hearts and Three Lions by Poul Anderson.

So, this is the first book mentioned in Appendix N, but only because it’s put down in alphabetical order. I bought my copy through Amazon, paid a penny as well as 280 more for postage. It really is a wonderful world we live in isn’t it when we can get an idea, such as reading the books that inspired AD&D and can make it happen so easily.

I liked this book. I didn’t love it and I doubt that I’ll ever read it again, but reading it once was a little treat. It’s a fast read, my copy, a 1970’s reprint (with the above cover) has just 156 pages. Barely a novel by today’s often Brobdingnagian standards. Maybe the lesson they could though is that something happens every page, there’s no fat here, no pointless exposition, everything has both purpose and meaning. That in itself was enjoyable.

What wasn’t was the faux-Scots dialogue of some of the characters. It slowed down the pace, took you out of the story. But…it was a choice and I can see why the writer made it and I do wonder if readers back in the fifties would have had the same problem with it. Just about every book aimed at teaching writing tells you to avoid it and it’s certainly fallen out of favour in my lifetime.

Okay, you know the drill, spoilers ahead.

The story itself is a parallel worlds tale about a man taken from our world and deposited in another, one where he is a brave knight, complete with full armour, a beautiful horse and a serviceable weapon. There’s also a shield bearing the Three Hearts and Three Lions of the title. The rest of the tale is taken up with his quest to find out who he is, what he’s meant to do and how he is to get home. That and his relationship with the beautiful Swan-May who has fallen in love with him. We meet, wizards, elves, trolls and cannibals and witches and all have their part to play in his quest. As does a Muslim knight, the brave and true Carahue. It all happens so naturally that there are few points where you’re taken out of the story, which I guess is a testament to Mr Andersons’ skill as a storyteller.

Good and Bad have become Chaos and Law, which allows for a greater amount of nuance. Characters are driven by their adherence to either philosophy and act accordingly. Nowhere is this more clearly seen than in the character of Morgan Le Fey. (Can I just say that I prefer Morgana to Morgan? Morgan just sounds so…male! Damn you Morgan Freeman and your amazing acting!) Morgan shows on more than one occasion that she loves Carlson and does her best to protect him while advancing her own plans. Carlson has to fight the feelings that he has for her to do what he knows is right. It’s shades of grey done right and creates depth without leaving you feeling sullied by what you’ve read.

The story is as deep as you want it to be, I suspect you could build a career on ‘discovering’ the hidden messages within the book. As a final note I’d like to point out that although I was a little disappointed at how the tale ended, it felt like there were a hundred or so pages missing.  Saying that I’ve never felt so driven to write a fan-fiction sequel of my own before.

That’s all, for now, guys. Next will be The Face in the Frost by John Belliars.

Until then

Take care

Dean

Posted in Appendix N Challenge

Appendix N Challenge: The Dying Earth by Jack Vance

This was the first of the Appendix N books that I’ve been able to see a direct and very clear influence on AD&D. I think it was the mentioning of Prismatic Spray right at the beginning that gave it away! Honestly? I found myself getting drawn deeper and deeper into the world at the end of the Suns’ life as the stories went on, until finishing late into this morning.
I have no idea how I missed this book growing up, I would have loved it. I’ve already suggested to a grandson that he take a look at it, seeing as how he’s at the perfect age for it. Each one of the tales builds upon the ones that came before a nifty technique that I can’t remember seeing used before, at least not as cleverly. The characters live and breathe, their motivations strong and reading their stories was always a genuine pleasure. The language is direct and uncomplicated, the speech clear and there is no attempt to obfusticate or confuse. I guess what I’m trying to say is that there is nothing that comes between the reader and the story.

So, what’s it about? In a nutshell, magicians. Magicians, their creations, and the scoundrels they come into contact with. Each story leads nicely onto the next, and by the end, a more complete picture has been built. There is an internal consistency to the world as drawn by Vance and he sticks to the rules, and at no point do you get the feeling that he thought he’d add something ‘just because’. These are much stronger tales because of that.

I don’t really want to add more as you should go and find a copy of this to read for yourself! Next up: Three Hearts and Three Lions by Poul Anderson.