Archives: Authors

Michael Moorcock, Appendix N’s Prince of Angst

It is only fair that I begin my web log post on Michael Moorcock with the positives of my assessment. He deserves recognition for his contribution to the field and I’m the last man to withhold his just due. Moorcock’s Law/Chaos dichotomy, along with Poul Anderson’s, was a seminal contribution to the alignment system of Dungeons and Dragons. Elric sits among the pantheon of notable fantasy characters. And while Moorcock did not invent the cursed sword, Stormbringer has become the epitome of the trope. In fact Dungeons and Dragons pays homage to it with the inclusion of the sword Black Razor in the funhouse adventure White Plume Mountain.

So Michael Moorcock’s deserved position in Appendix N remains undimmed, whatever I might think. And I do have an opinion. For whatever that’s worth.

Pacific Northwest Coastal Thoughts

Good — even great — writers develop and thrive in every climate and every locale. I’m not going to pretend they don’t. But, as I’m writing this in my hotel room on the beach in the Pacific Northwest Coast, I’m going to ignore all that pesky reality and posit reasons why the PNC matrix grows and nurtures superlative writers. N.B. I’m not counting myself among them; I’m a long time resident of Portland and its environs (soon to stretch the practical definition of ‘environs’), and not a coastal denizen.

Gloomy leaden skies threaten rain and reliably deliver on those threats. Monotonous drizzle, wind-driven sheets of icy sleet needles, torrents. Sodden evergreen forests soak up the constant precipitation, storing it up to deliver bucket loads to the fiddlehead ferns and assorted undergrowth below that turns the ground to an unbroken stretch of sponge. It’s wet, is what I’m saying. People stay indoors. Might as well write.

And what goes on in those vast tracts of rainforest? Dense, trackless. Why not Sasquatch? Elves or aliens. There’s a reason Mulder and Scully spent so much time blundering about through Pacific Northwest forests, right? Couldn’t just be the Vancouver, B.C. shooting location. Don’t be a cynic.

Over the dunes the gray expanse of the Pacific beckons. Waves pound irregularly on the rocks and sand, suggesting to the imaginative a syncopation one could grasp if one listened long enough. It is tantalizing. What is the rhythm? The off-beat drives the offbeat imagination.

The Pacific Northwest Coast restaurants abound in clam chowder, Dungeness crabs, fresh caught salmon, beer brewed not too far from that very spot. Fuel for the imagination.

The funky little towns tucked into coves and straddling headlands offer quirky antique shops and used bookstores. The kind of tiny, bric-a-brac filled establishments that seem to promise a long-forgotten magical relic or tome of lore, if one searches long enough through overlooked alcoves.

The people who wash up on the coast from inland like flotsam and jetsam offer model fictional characters. The burnouts, ex-hippies, retirees, seekers of second, third, fourth chances, the eternal optimists who think this business venture will really get traction.

Are any one or combination of the above the answer, or even an answer? I don’t know. All I know is that recent series of crashing waves had a pretty catchy hook.

Home

Hobbits are the quintessential homebodies. So it is no wonder that Professor Tolkien’s literary masterpiece includes one of the few examples in speculative fiction of a lovingly detailed home. Bag End is so finely realized that most of us would love to live there. That makes it a rarity. Homes in speculative fiction are usually jumping off points, or places characters are pleased to leave, or destroyed in order to compel the characters to leave. Homes are seldom longed for, or if they are, we take the character’s word for it, instead of vicariously experiencing that longing ourselves as we do with the Baggins’ cozy hole in the ground.

Appendix N is Cosmically Indifferent to Your Opinion: HP Lovecraft

So we come to HPL himself, Howard Phillips Lovecraft. Much anguished ink has been spilled over HPL in recent years. You want to delve into that, you’re on your own. I’m just writing about stories here.

HPL is best known for his Cthulhu Mythos tales, his stories of men driven to madness upon coming face-to-face with cosmic horrors. The kicker, and the thrust of HPL’s philosophy, is that these cosmic horrors — and by extension, the universe itself — are completely indifferent to the fate, and even the existence, of humanity.

Fritz Leiber, The Touchstone of Appendix N

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I intend to write today about Fritz Leiber. But first, I want to acknowledge Jan’s Paperbacks for once again arranging a book signing for me. My hat is off to you ladies.

What more can be written about Fritz Leiber? He was one of the giants of swords and sorcery. Among the genre’s congnoscenti, he is recognized as a peer of Robert E. Howard. Of course, to the casual reader he’s less likely to be a household name. For those of you who have played Dungeons and Dragons, Leiber has influenced you whether you’ve heard of him or not.

Sterling Lanier: Appendix N Meets the Apocalypse

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For many, the 1980’s were years shadowed by the specter of nuclear war. I never worried about it. But nuclear war — the chances, the scenarios, the aftermath — fueled the creations of filmmakers, writers, musicians, etc. It was the decade that brought Kris Kristofferson’s seamed, craggy face to our TV screens for the mini-series Amerika. It brought us Phil Collins caterwauling with puppet Thatcher and Reagan on MTV. And it brought us Sterling Lanier’s post-apocalyptic novels Hiero’s Journey and Unforsaken Hiero.

Robert E. Howard, Appendix N’s Top Dog Contender

I approach this entry with some trepidation. I knew I’d need to write about Robert Ervin Howard at some point. But I’ve been reluctant to do so because, really, what more is there to say about the man? More ink has been spilled critiquing REH than any other Appendix N author save J.R.R. Tolkien. There are dedicated Howard scholars contributing to journals. The late, lamented blog “The Cimmerian” curated years worth of commentary. The annual Howard Days in Cross Plains, Texas, offers panel discussions. The topic of Robert E. Howard has been covered.

But, I’ve taken on this labor of Appendix N commentary, and by Crom’s beard, I’m going to write about REH. Adding a few more drops of digital ink to the ocean.

Gardner Fox, Appendix N

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Today I’m turning my attention once again to Appendix N. The writer in the spotlight this time is Gardner Fox. Not exactly a household name, not even among aficionados of sword-and-sorcery fiction. He’s probably better known to comic book fans as a prolific comics scripter, writing from the 1930s into the 1980s. His claim to Appendix N membership is predicated on his Kothar sword-and-sorcery novels.

Fiction Description

Opinion time, readers. What is your preference, or perhaps tolerance, for the amount of description of places, things, physical appearance, etc. in fiction? Do you like to have an exacting rundown of what the characters look like, what the furniture in a room looks like and how it is arranged, and what everyone is wearing? Or do you tend to skip the descriptive paragraphs and scan down the page until the action recommences?