I played coy a bit ago, teasing some news. That’s because I don’t like to offer news only to later have to issue a retraction. Now it can be revealed. (Passive voice, ugh. But in context it does read better than “Now I can reveal it.”) Both parties signed the contract rendering this news legit. So, without further blather:
You may have known it, but it came as a surprise to me: Don Pendleton wrote science fiction. Mind blown, right?
Wait, maybe I should back up a step. I’m proceeding under the assumption that you are all familiar with Don Pendleton. That could be a mistake, what with the assuming and all. Don Pendleton is known for writing the long-running men’s adventure series The Executioner. You may remember seeing these paperbacks in the checkout aisles at grocery stores back in the eighties, the covers featuring a dark haired man with a gun (that would Mack Bolan himself, the eponymous executioner), a hot chick in the mid-ground, and maybe some armed baddies in the background. The books were probably shelved next to others with such titles as Stony Man, or Phoenix Force.
I think I’ve read a couple of the Mack Bolan books. I vaguely remember reading one in a library in Hawaii. And I think I read at least one of the related titles. I seem to recall reading one back in high school, about the same time my friend up the street was running me through solo Top Secret adventures (though that may be trick of the memory creating false cross-references.)
So anyway. That Don Pendleton. He also wrote science fiction. I just finished The Guns of Terra 10, a 1970 paperback that almost reached 190 pages in length. How was it? Really, not as bad as you might think. Pendleton was actually playing with some interesting themes. Or perhaps he’d just finished reading A Brave New World while sitting through re-runs of Star Trek. But to give him credit, he did seem involved in the idea of human genetic engineering and its potential long term consequences. He also worked out his own baloney FTL concept instead of relying entirely upon handwavium engines. I particularly enjoyed his idea of twin guns, one firing matter, the other anti-matter, with the two meeting at the aiming point. Pretty cool.
I won’t go so far as to recommend it. But if you have the hankering for the sort of fiction in which fist-fights lead to friendship and understanding, or are in the mood for loving, extended descriptions of breasts, or want to enjoy a crew of uneducated, agricultural yokels essentially dropping into the bridge of the USS Enterprise and working the controls with no appreciable concern for the learning curve — then, hey, this might be the book you’re looking for.
I’ve returned from NanoCon Mark IV and my stint as GOH. How about that?
It was a fun little con, held at the Longview Community College, just across the river from Rainier. I’d guess attendance came in at about two hundred. I’d consider it a success. I sold out of Under Strange Suns. I cut my inventory of Reunion in half. I met a number of intelligent and interesting people.
Among these I’d count James Wells, the great grandson of H.G. Wells (or the great man himself with a time machine and a convincing American accent.) We exchanged novels, so I have The Great Symmetry on my to-read pile now.
I had an engaging chat with James Omelina who runs several escape rooms in the southwest Washington area. I’m intrigued to check one out. I hear good things about the entertainment value of well-designed escape room, and James appears to have the design aspect dialed in.
I even managed lunch at the Ashtown brewery, a few blocks away from the convention. Well worth it.
The organizers were kind enough to invite me to return next year. I do hope my schedule allows it.
I made my annual pilgrimage to the Kennedy School for the J.R.R. Tolkien Birthday Bash on Saturday. The recent inclement weather is the likely culprit for this year’s rather sparse attendance. (Seriously, I saw a couple guys on cross-country skis crossing the street when I left.) So I suppose there isn’t much to report. I brought the family with me, thinking the Heir Apparent would be old enough to enjoy some of the activities, maybe enjoy the costumes. But I only saw one person in costume. Due to naptime considerations (no, not mine, wiseass) and the condition of the roads we left before any of the planned events began (except for the commencement of the trilogy showing in the theater, but I’d just as soon sit at home for a re-watch.)
Fletcher Pratt, or more precisely, Murray Fletcher Pratt, lived an intriguing life. Seriously, look him up. The man moved in the right circles. Over there, Isaac Asimov, over here, Rex Stout. A true man of letters, making his living as much with non-fiction as with fiction. History, reviews, short stories, novels. Pratt was a man of accomplishment. And I’m sure Gary Gygax was familiar with Pratt’s development of rules for wargaming naval combat, using the tiles of his kitchen floor for grid squares.
Perihelion Science-Fiction magazine published a bit of flash fiction I was commissioned to write for an article on The End of the World. (Read that last phrase in a pretentious film trailer voice, with a dramatic pause between the second and third word.) It’s a brief read, a literary hors d’oeuvres. Here it is, if you want a snack.
I know I’ve already mentioned that I have a short story in Mama Tried. It is a straight up crime piece, no rocket ships or wizards. I’m rather proud of it, though I suppose I’d prefer the title had been spelled correctly. It’s Copperhead Road, not Cooperhead Road. Well, no use crying over spilled beer. A single, anguished tear ought to do. The reason I bring it up is that I received my author copy. So I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the stories. And seeing if their titles are spelled properly.
I’m over two-thirds of the way through Bernard Cornwell’s latest, The Flame Bearer. I’ll probably finish it today. Even strapped for time to read, I still power through Cornwell’s stuff like a chainsaw through pudding. He writes utterly compelling drama. It is familiar territory. I have the Cornwell beats down by heart, and I know how it is going to end. But it doesn’t matter, I’m still swept along by this relentless tide of action.
So, enough of this web log post. I’ve got a book to finish.
I think, as far as reading sensibilities went, Gary Gygax shared the most with Andrew J. Offutt out of all the Appendix N authors. They were contemporaries and from the available evidence enjoyed similar tastes in fiction. Andrew Offutt was a prolific writer and editor. (And an interesting fellow, as one can discover from reading his son Christopher’s memoir. But such biographical details are beyond the scope of this web log.)
I come at last to Andre Norton, long a gap in my Appendix N reading. While she has always floated within my awareness as a reader, I remained unfamiliar with her works. I did pick up Quag Keep a few years back. My distaste for gaming fiction remains, but I think I can give Quag Keep a pass as it is evident that Andre Norton had only the most cursory knowledge of D&D and made little effort to stick within any established rules. The book is moderately entertaining if you’re not expecting much. That’s about all I can say for it. And I have read her story The Toads of Grimmerdale a couple of times and consider it an atmospheric delight. Recommended.
I’m about two-thirds of the way through my haphazardly completed reviews of Appendix N authors. Andre Norton is in the batter’s box. I’ve not read much of her output, so I’m taking in a few of her Witch World novels before writing up my assessment. But this seems a good time to look back on what I’ve covered so far.
I’m comfortable in saying that I can understand why each of the authors made the list. I can either point to a specific instance in a novel (an item, monster, concept, etc.) that filtered into the rules of D&D or I can see how the tenor or flavor of the writing influenced the style of play Gary Gygax was attempting to encourage and the archetypes he was attempting to emulate through the character classes.
Most of the tales are adventure stories, sitting in varying positions along the pulp-to-literary stylistic spectrum. Importantly, most were entertaining. I can see the influence of a few of these writers in my own output (for better or worse, depending on how you perceive my work.) These are deep-seated influences. I’ve been reading this stuff for a long time. I’ve only rarely had to hunt up a book or two in order to familiarize myself with an Appendix N notable. Most of the authors have had works sitting on my shelves for years.
Now, if someone were to ask for three authors one must read from the first two-thirds of the list in order to get a handle on what D&D is all about, I’d suggest (in alphabetical order) Poul Anderson, Fritz Leiber, and Michael Moorcock. This is not intended to slight any of the others (in fact, most of the others are, in my opinion, better writers than Moorcock) but to single these writers out as having the greatest influence on the game. Of course the final third will include some heavyweights. Might Jack Vance knock one of these off the podium?* You’ll have to wait.
* What about Tolkien, you ask? J.R.R. Tolkien’s influence on D&D is a matter of some controversy. I’m not sure I want to weigh in on that one. Not yet anyway.
For every film made based on a novel there are a hundred books optioned but not green-lit. For every book optioned but not filmed there a hundred thousand not optioned. Many of the latter two categories read as pretty cinematic to me. So here is a list of novels I’d like to see turned into films. Or a series of films. Or a television mini-series. Or a television ongoing series. Whatever. This doesn’t include books I know to be optioned or have heard rumors to that effect.