Archives: review

Accepting Praise with Grace

Perihelion Online Science Fiction Magazine likes my novel, Under Strange Suns. No, really. Check out the review. And that’s good. It warms the outer crust of my black, stony lawyer’s heart. But it also makes me squirm a bit. I don’t receive praise well.

Stupid, isn’t it? Someone likes what you do. Say thank you. Appreciate that someone appreciates your work. And move on. But I’ve never been comfortable with it. You might think it speaks to a lack of self-confidence, a deep-seated, niggling sense that nothing I produce could be that good. Could be, but I don’t think so. My well of amour-propre seldom runs dry.

I suppose it is something to work on. To learn to accept praise in the spirit in which it is offered without it leading to either a swelled-head or to a parsing of the praise, picking it apart to look for some hidden slight or suggestion of insincerity.

There are worse problems to have.

2013 in Review

And there goes 2013. So, yeah. Can you believe it, we’re well into the second decade of the twenty-first century. Hardly proceeding as scripted, but that’s another post.

Interesting year, 2013. Personally a rather extraordinary year. As I type I can see my daughter sleeping in her bassinet. Ken procreating: many have considered that one of the signs of the impending apocalypse. But you can’t hang the end of the world on me, whether it’s via asteroid, zombies, super-flu, nuclear holocaust, or Vogon destructor fleets.

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.”