Archives: aliens

Portland Film Festival

Portland film fest

Saturday afternoon I attended a panel on Science Fiction, Film, and Technology. The panel boasted a pretty good line up, including Daniel H. Wilson of Robopocalypse fame. I enjoyed the discussion. Though I was struck by the thought that I may have spent too much time reading and thinking about this stuff. Wh? Well, during the course of listening to the flow of the conversation I would conceive a thought, a reference, a quote, etc. Within the next thirty seconds to a minute, one of the panelists would vocalize that exact thought. Perhaps I’ve spent too long marinating in the sci-fi pond, or perhaps it is growing stagnant.

One of the points politely contended was if the sort of films marketed as science fiction are truly science fiction. Or are they simply films of a different genre supplied with sci-fi trappings. An interesting question. Another question, that I don’t recall being addressed iis how interested would an audience be in a film that legitimately delved into hard sci-fi, the sort of technologically driven story written by scientists and engineers with a penchant for fiction, like the OG writers from the Golden Age of science fiction. A few films do tackle sociologically driven stories. But I believe those are easier to translate to compelling film.

The final question, delivered via Twitter, asked the panelists what their favorite science fiction story was, in any medium: film, novel, short story, etc. Now that is a broad question. I don’t think I could answer it. I cordially dislike most such arbitrary quantifications. Must I have a favorite? Cannot I enjoy multiple items equally? And of course one must separate ‘favorite’ from ‘greatest’, yet another arbitrary decision. Also the question eliminates categories. I don’t like requiring to pit novels against short stories, or short stories against film, or televisions shows against novels, etc. I suppose I should toss out some ideas. Dune, I could contend, is the greatest science fiction novel. But is it my favorite? I’d probably go with an old short story, something from RAH, or Fredric Brown. Or perhaps one of Jack Vance’s short novels. How to choose? Can’t do it. Same with film. I think Inception is a terrific science fiction film. But is it my favorite? Which would I rather watch again? Inception, or something like Robocop, or Predator, or The Terminator, Aliens, or hell, even Starship Troopers?

What do you think? Any favorites?

Appendix N Part 1.

Appendix N Part 1.

This is the first in an irregular series of posts on the books of Appendix N. To illuminate those not in the know, Appendix N appeared in the appendices of “The Advanced Dungeons & Dragons “Dungeon Master’s Guide.” It is a partial listing of the books and authors that influenced Gary Gygax’s contribution to the creation of the game. It is a solid, if incomplete, source of recommended works of pulp fiction.

In this installment I’ll consider the first entry of Appendix N: Poul Anderson’s “Three Hearts and Three Lions,” “The Broken Sword,” and “The High Crusade.”

Poul Anderson’s fingerprints smudge all components of D&D. “Three Hearts and Three Lions” directly informed the D&D version of the Troll and the Paladin character class, to provide a couple examples. The book describes the adventures of Holger Carlsen, a World War II solider who finds himself in a quasi-medieval fantasy realm of dwarfs and faeries and magicians and monsters along with knights, Christians, and Saracens.

“The Broken Sword” is Nordic rather than high medieval fantasy. Think elves and vikings. It features the doomed adventures of Skafloc, a changeling raised in the halls of Imric the elf. Where “Three Hearts” is light in tone and swashbuckling “The Broken Sword” is grim and lyrical, full of the ‘northern thing,’ fatalistic and tragic.

Arguably these two books were more directly influential to D&D’s conception of elves than Professor Tolkien’s writings. Anderson’s faerie-folk were soulless, distinctly non-Christian; amoral when not actively malevolent; seductive and sexual creatures. Tolkien acknowledged this folkloric tradition in”Smith of Wooton Major” and to some extent in “The Silmarillion” but the elves of Middle Earth must necessarily be perceived in a more heroic light than Anderson’s.

“The High Crusade” is a romp. An alien space ship lands near the castle of an English baron. The baron, Sir Roger, captures the ship, commandeering it for transport to France, but is instead taken to the stars where he begins a campaign of interstellar conquest. There are players of Dungeons & Dragons who grumble at the intrusion of science fiction elements into ‘pure’ fantasy. But the pulp literature predating the game did this as a matter of course. If one is to make the not unreasonable assumption that the books listed in Appendix N inspired not only the game itself but also the manner and type of scenarios the game’s creators played, then the sort of hybrid represented by “The High Crusade” is encoded in the very DNA of D&D.

I give all three books a high recommendation, allowing a slight personal preference for “Three Hearts and Three Lions.”