Simplicity Himself

I discovered Warhammer in high school. Some friends I met in art class were into the miniatures, and brought a catalog with them to school one day. Needless to say, I was impressed. I’d never been into miniatures before that, and the old Warhammer stuff was pretty cool. That led to me playing Warhammer Fantasy Battle and buying, though never actually playing, WFRP and Rogue Trader. I didn’t keep up with Warhammer, but the old stuff definitely certainly fired my imagination.

Which brings me to Simplicius Simplicissimus, Warhammer’s great-grandfather (or maybe closer than that). Written in 1668 by Hans Jakob Christoffel von Grimmelshausen, it is a picaresque novel set in Germany during the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648). It is the story of a simple country boy who gets whisked into the big events of the day, and I would say definitely an influence on the grim world of perilous adventure presented in Warhammer … except I don’t actually know that this is true. I suppose if you’re making a game/setting inspired by the Thirty Years’ War in Germany, you’re going to end up with something akin to a book about those same events.

The main thing that makes me think there’s a link is the progression of Simplicius from career to career over the course of the book. He begins as a simple farm laborer, and then becomes a religious hermit, a fool, an outlaw and sneak thief, a dragoon, a charlatan, etc.

No trollslayers, but still …

The book is a fun read, and the Alfred Thomas Scrope Goodrick translation I read (from Project Gutenberg) was easier going than you might expect for something written a few hundred years ago. I’ll also note that the book moves along at a pretty good pace – old books are sometimes slow (because they didn’t need to compete with TV), but I never had the temptation to skip ahead in Simplicius. The book isn’t entirely “safe for work”, but it doesn’t delve too far into sex and bloody brutality. I definitely give it my recommendation as a book to read on par with most modern adventure fiction.

Literary merits aside, the book presents good fodder for fantasy gaming, Warhammer-style gaming especially. The supernatural shows up a couple times, but isn’t prevalent, so it’s mostly about normal people trying to make their way in a rough time and place. Here are a few passages from the book that I found particularly interesting:

This is the introduction to the hermit who takes him in. This guy is about as Lawful as the book gets:

So I plucked up heart to come out of my hollow tree and to draw nigh to the voice I had heard, where I was ware of a tall man with long greyish hair which fell in confusion over his shoulders: a tangled beard he had shapen like to a Swiss cheese; his face yellow and thin yet kindly enough, and his long gown made up of more than a thousand pieces of cloth of all sorts sewn together one upon another. Round his neck and body he had wound a heavy iron chain like St. William, and in other ways seemed in mine eyes so grisly and terrible that I began to shake like a wet dog.

A description of the soldier’s life. This would apply to most old school fantasy adventurers as well:

For gluttony and drunkenness, hunger and thirst, wenching and dicing and playing, riot and roaring, murdering and being murdered, slaying and being slain, torturing and being tortured, hunting and being hunted, harrying and being harried, robbing and being robbed, frighting and being frighted, causing trouble and suffering trouble, beating and being beaten: in a word, hurting and harming, and in turn being hurt and harmed–this was their whole life.

The goings on of the aristocracy at a party – I thought it might make a good random table for behavior in inns and taverns:

‘Twas indeed a wonderful pantomime to see how they did fool, and yet none wondered but I. One sang: one wept: one laughed: another moaned: one cursed: another prayed: one shouted “Courage!” another could not even speak. One was quiet and peaceable: another would drive the devil out by swaggering: one slept and was silent, another talked so fast that none could stand up against him. One told stories of tender love adventures, another of his dreadful deeds in war. Some talked of church and clergy, some of the constitution, of politics, of the affairs of the empire and of the world. Some ran hither and thither and could not keep still: some lay where they were and could not stir a finger, much less stand up or walk. Some were still eating like ploughmen, and as if they had been a week without food, while others were vomiting up what they had eaten that very day.

A list of hangover cures:

There wormwood, sage wine, elecampane, quince and lemon drinks, with hippocras, were to clear the heads and stomachs of the drinkers;

A strange spell from the book:

And no sooner had the rogue mumbled some words than there sprang out of each man’s breeches, sleeves, boots and pockets, and all other openings in their clothes, one, two, three, or more young puppies. And these sniffed round and round in the tent, and pretty beasts they were, of all manner of colours, and each with some special ornament, so that ’twas a right merry sight.

If you like gore, the book has some gore. This could also work as a description of a fantasy battlefield:

The earth, whose custom it is to cover the dead was there itself covered with them, and those variously distinguished: for here lay heads that had lost their natural owners, and there bodies that lacked their heads: some had their bowels hanging out in most ghastly and pitiful fashion, and others had their heads cleft and their brains scattered: there one could see how lifeless bodies were deprived of their blood while the living were covered with the blood of others; here lay arms shot off, on which the fingers still moved, as if they would yet be fighting; and elsewhere rascals were in full flight that had shed no drop of blood: there lay severed legs, which though delivered from the burden of the body, yet were far heavier than they had been before: there could one see crippled soldiers begging for death, and on the contrary others beseeching quarter and the sparing of their lives. In a word, ’twas naught but a miserable and pitiful sight.

The effect of gunpowder on the world (i.e. look out high level fighters):

But ’twas this cause made me so great a man, that nowadays the veriest horse-boy can shoot the greatest hero in the world; and had not gunpowder been invented I must have put my pride in my pocket.

On the glories of gold (and some supernatural associations with gemstones):

Yea, I could even take upon me to prove that this same money possesses all virtues and powers more than any precious stones; for it can drive away all melancholia like the diamond: it causeth love and inclination to study, like the emerald (for so comes it that commonly students have more money than poor folk’s children): it taketh away fear and maketh man joyful and happy like unto the ruby: ’tis often an hindrance to sleep, like the garnet: on the other hand, it hath great power to produce repose of mind and so sleep, like the jacinth: it strengtheneth the heart and maketh a man jolly and companionable, lively and kind, like the sapphire and amethyst: it driveth away bad dreams, giveth joy, sharpeneth the understanding, and if one have a plaint against another it gaineth him the victory, like the sardius (and in especial if the judge’s palm be first well oiled therewith): it quencheth unchaste desire, for by means of gold one can possess fair women: and in a word, ’tis not to be exprest what gold can do, as I have before set forth in my book intituled “Black and White,” if any man know how rightly to use and employ this information.

Probably not the best name for a game (bolded text):

And though I did no deed evil enough to forfeit my life, yet was I so reckless that, save for sorcerers and sodomites, no worse man could be found.

On random encounters in the Black Forest:

… that I should not escape from the peasants of the Black Forest, which were then famous for the knocking of soldiers on the head.

A melee:

… when we did least expect it, came six musqueteers with a corporal to our hut with their pieces ready and their matches burning, who burst in the door and cried to us to surrender. But Oliver (that, like me, had ever his loaded piece lying by him and his sharp sword also, and then sat behind the table, and I by the stove behind the door) answered them with a couple of musquet-balls, wherewith he brought two to the ground, while I with a like shot slew one and wounded the fourth. Then Oliver whipped out his terrible sword (that could cut hairs asunder and might well be compared to Caliburn, the sword of King Arthur of England) and therewith he clove the fifth man from the shoulder to the belly, so that his bowels gushed out and he himself fell down beside them in gruesome fashion. And meanwhile I knocked the sixth man on the head with the butt-end of my piece, so that he fell lifeless: but Oliver got even such a blow from the seventh, and that with such force that his brains flew out, and I in turn dealt him that did that such a crack that he must needs join his comrades on the dead muster-roll. So when the one that I had shot at and wounded was ware of such cuffs and saw that I made for him with the butt of my piece also, he threw away his gun and began to run as if the devil was at his heels. Yet all this fight lasted no longer than one could say a paternoster, in which brief space seven brave soldiers did bite the dust.

A spell to force thieves to give back their stolen goods, worth 10 sp (or more or less, depending on your system):

And since ’tis as grievous to lose such things as ’tis hard to get them, therefore the said Switzer would move heaven and earth to come by them again, and did even send for the famous devil-driver of the Goatskin, which did so plague the thief by his charms that he must needs restore the stolen goods to their proper place: for which the wizard earned ten rix-dollars.

I hope this motivates you to give the book a read, especially if you’re a WFRP player or game master. Well worth the time!

Lords of Light? Not Quite

I finished reading Thundar, Man of Two Worlds, last night and this is my promised book report. As always, I will keep it short and try to avoid spoiling it for folks who want to read the book themselves.

First and foremost, the book is an homage to the work of Edgar Rice Burroughs. It was published in 1971, but reads more like something written in the 1930s (for good and ill). The author, John Bloodstone, is really writer Stuart J. Byrne. Byrne wrote pulp sci-fi back in the 1950s and 1960s, wrote a couple episodes of Men into Space (which I love) and a couple movies in the 1970s, and later wrote translations of Perry Rhodan stories.

The book concerns the adventures of Michael Storm, who is a mountain climber and swordsman (all such characters need to have a knowledge of sword fighting before they wind up in a swords and sorcery setting) who winds up in the far future through his reckless daring. Once in the far future, he gets into all sorts of trouble – again, I don’t want to get into specifics, because blabbing about them would ruin all the good (which is little) this book has to offer.

Unfortunately, the book lacks ERB’s creativity, or his pace reminiscent of old movie serials, with each chapter ending with the protagonists in a terrible situation, and the next beginning with how they escaped it … only to fall into another by the chapter’s end. You get a little of this in Thundar, but not enough, and like most fan fiction it doesn’t completely gel. The book was clearly intended to be followed by others which, to my knowledge, did not materialize.

Now, as to whether this book could have influenced the Thundarr the Barbarian cartoon (1980-1982) … maybe, but only in very small ways. If it had any influence, I would guess it was a matter of the creators of the cartoon having a hazy remembrance of the book. Cartoon Thundarr looks a little like the guy on the cover, but the resemblance ends there. There is no Ookla the Mok (and the Mogg in the book can only have influenced the word “mok”, and nothing else about old Ookla), though there is a “dawn man” called Koom (and he’s pretty cool – more Koom would have made for a better book in my opinion). There is no Princess Ariel (though there is a Princess Cylayne, who does help Thundar and mostly serves as a Dejah Thoris stand-in to motivate our hero). There is some super science, but no sorcery. There is no sun sword, though there is a blade of Damascus steel. There was a catastrophic cosmic event that screwed up the Earth, but the story is set a million years in the future, so there are no remnants of the 1980s. In short … very little influence. There is suggestion that this world was the origin of the advanced peoples of South America, but the people we meet in this future earth don’t apparently resemble them at all – I kept expecting this and was disappointed.

Can gamers get any inspiration from the book? Maybe, but I doubt it. The world building is pretty simplistic. You have mountains and a jungle and an inland sea and two rival cities on its shores, and not much else. I would expect that every DM’s first stab at making up a campaign world was as good as anything you would get in this book. There’s almost a cool hook involving technology’s influence over the world, but it remains vague, perhaps to be dealt with in more detail in the later books that didn’t happen. Even if technology had been more fully explained, it mostly shows up as a deus ex machina, which wouldn’t be too handy to a DM writing a campaign world. The way Michael Storm ends up in the far future could be copied for a game – it was pretty fun,  but not revolutionary.

Final grade: C-

The Ur-Thief

Image by Sidney Sime, found HERE

One of the fun things about exploring old D&D is the search for the origins of its many elements. Rangers are Aragorns, rust monsters came in a pack of Japanese dinosaur toys, etc. The thief has often been linked to the Leiber’s Grey Mouser and Vance’s Cugel, but I would propose a different Ur-Thief … Thangobrind the Jeweller.

I’ve been boning up on my Dunsany lately, to help me apply the finishing touches to Bloody Basic – Weird Fantasy Edition, and last night read through the “Distressing Tale of Thangobrind the Jeweller” in his Book of Wonder. I draw your attention to the following passages, which seem very thiefy to me:

HIDE IN SHADOWS

“O, but he loved shadows! Once the moon peeping out unexpectedly from a tempest had betrayed an ordinary jeweller; not so did it undo Thangobrind: the watchman only saw a crouching shape that snarled and laughed: “‘Tis but a hyena,” they said.”

MOVE SILENTLY

“Once in the city of Ag one of the guardians seized him, but Thangobrind was oiled and slipped from his hand; you scarcely heard his bare feet patter away.”

“At night they shoot by the sound of the strangers’ feet. O, Thangobrind, Thangobrind, was ever a jeweller like you! He dragged two stones behind him by long cords, and at these the archers shot.”

FIND TRAPS

“… but Thangobrind discerned the golden cord that climbed the wall from each [of the emeralds] and the weights that would topple upon him if he touched one …”

LISTEN AT DOORS

“Though when a soft pittering as of velvet feet arose behind him he refused to acknowledge that it might be what he feared …”

Okay, not at a door, but keen listening nonetheless.

OTHER SKILLS

“… – now like a botanist, scrutinising the ground; now like a dancer, leaping from crumbling edges.”

 

“Oh, he was cunning! When the priests stole out of the darkness to lap up the honey they were stretched senseless on the temple floor, for there was a drug in the honey that was offered to Hlo-Hlo.”

Which, of course, means the Thief needs to be reintroduced as a class in its own right into the Weird Fantasy edition, sending the vagabond back to the “subclass” category. This thief will likely have a couple different skills to bring to the table, though.

Getting Primitive

I have a tendency to run with ideas. The current one is an Age of Heroes campaign outline for NOD, or maybe Bloody Basic … or maybe both. I’ve been reading The Horse, the Wheel and Language by David W. Anthony, and it got me thinking about a stone age/copper age setting from before the movement of Proto-Indo-Europeans into Europe and India. Now, I’m not going to get into whether this theorized movement actually happened – I don’t have the background in it, and frankly, when I’m inventing a fantasy world to play in, I don’t care.

My current thinking is to set the game in approximately 3500 BC in Europe, the Near East and the adjacent regions. This means stone age technology, with a few advanced societies using copper weapons (which may have been ceremonial, but who cares.) Armor would be padded and leather, and probably no shields. Weapons include bows, javelins, spears, daggers, maces, clubs, and hand axes. Since most are made of stone or copper, the damage should be reduced from normal, which mitigates the lack of armor to some degree. Hey – it was a rough time to be alive.

I’m thinking I’ll take metal weapon damage back two steps for stone, with a chance of breakage on a natural “1” – maybe a simple item saving throw. For copper weapons, take damage back one step, with a similar chance of item’s being ruined on a natural “1” attack roll. For armor, I might draw on the post I wrote about fighting naked like the ancient Greek heroes were depicted doing in art.

Horses (ponies really) will be rare, and the knowledge and technology of riding will be very limited. In fact, it was probably unknown in this period, but here’s where we fudge things a bit.

Monsters will be geared towards prehistoric hold-overs from previous ages and the mythic monsters of the cultures of Europe and the Near East – manticores, chimeras, etc.

I’m working on a preliminary map of the cultures that were floating around in 3500 BC. Here, there will be some fudging and wholesale creation of ancient cultures. Mythology will be plundered, and something akin to Howard’s Hyborian Age will be woven from the strands of what little we know. This is where the “Age of Heroes” idea comes in – the idea that the heroic stories of ancient peoples were really set in this prehistoric age. Hercules, Jason, etc. will be featured in one guise or another. Here, I want to make use of the demigod class I wrote up a while ago – the idea is that the player characters are demigods walking the world, creating the stories that will be told for centuries after by the tribes and kingdoms they found.

It’s been a fascinating journey through prehistory for me so far – there was plenty I didn’t know, primarily about the extent of stone age urbanization. I’ll update you as I proceed. I’m still writing the next hex crawl. Sinew & Steel is pretty close to completion. Weird Fantasy is on hold while I bone up on my Dunsany and CAS. Still, all is proceeding nicely.

The Man Who Was Thursday – Quick Review

Read it.

Longer review …

I’m three chapters into G. K. Chesterton’s novel The Man Who Was Thursday, and I’m loving it. I was wavering through the first chapter until the last few lines. Now I’m completely hooked. Imagine if you will the turn-of-the-century struggle between the Central Council of Anarchists and the poets-turned-police officers assembled to stop them from destroying the world. If you’re into the weird and absurd, you will probably dig The Man Who Was Thursday.

And since the inspiration has struck, I will be presenting, tomorrow, the anarchist class.

That’s all for today kiddies!

How About Some Free Jack Vance?

I’ll do a Dragon by Dragon later today, but wanted to share this in the meantime. Jack Vance has a website, maintained by family and friends, and they currently have an e-book of The Chasch up as a free download, with, they say, more to follow. If you’re a fan, or if you’ve never experienced Vance, visit the site and give it a look-see.

If you want to know more about The Chasch, you can read a bit at Wikipedia.

The Metal Monster by Abraham Merritt

Doesn’t come close to capturing the book

I just finished reading The Metal Monster by Abraham Merritt, and I wanted to dash off a quick review. The quick summary – if you haven’t read it, read it. Now. I’ll wait.

Here’s the lowdown – and I’ll throw in SPOILER ALERT just in case I give anything away.

You don’t want to read The Metal Monster for the plot or characters, mainly because the characters are mostly stock, though Norhala, the alien-science-goddess-prophet of the Metal Monsters has a little depth and almost grows as a character, kinda sorta. The human characters are pointless – I even kept getting two of them mixed up because they were blank slates. I couldn’t even form a picture of them in my mind. Worse than having no personalities, really, they only existed as observers with absolutely no impact on what was happening around them. If you don’t believe me, read Lovecraft’s assessment HERE.

We looked upon a vision of loveliness such, I think, as none has beheld since Trojan Helen was a maid. At first all I could note were the eyes, clear as rain-washed April skies, crystal clear as some secret spring sacred to crescented Diana. Their wide gray irises were flecked with golden amber and sapphire—flecks that shone like clusters of little aureate and azure stars.


Then with a strange thrill of wonder I saw that these tiny constellations were not in the irises alone; that they clustered even within the pupils—deep within them, like far-flung stars in the depths of velvety, midnight heavens.


Whence had come those cold fires that had flared from them, I wondered—more menacing, far more menacing, in their cold tranquillity than the hot flames of wrath? These eyes were not perilous—no. Calm they were and still—yet in them a shadow of interest flickered; a ghost of friendliness smiled.


Above them were level, delicately penciled brows of bronze. The lips were coral crimson and—asleep. Sweet were those lips as ever master painter, dreaming his dream of the very soul of woman’s sweetness, saw in vision and limned upon his canvas—and asleep, nor wistful for awakening.


A proud, straight nose; a broad low brow, and over it the masses of the tendriling tresses—tawny, lustrous topaz, cloudy, METALLIC. Like spun silk of ruddy copper; and misty as the wisps of cloud that Soul’tze, Goddess of Sleep, sets in the skies of dawn to catch the wandering dreams of lovers.


Down from the wondrous face melted the rounded column of her throat to merge into exquisite curves of shoulders and breasts, half revealed beneath the swathing veils.


But upon that face, within her eyes, kissing her red lips and clothing her breasts, was something unearthly.


Something that came straight out of the still mysteries of the star-filled spaces; out of the ordered, the untroubled, the illimitable void.

And that’s okay.

Why? Because the book is about the Metal Monsters. And they’re worth it.

Merritt did a very fine job of presenting aliens with an alien point of view that you can grasp, but probably not accept. They aren’t like klingons and vulcans, just adopting one human facet and turning it up to 11. They’re wholly alien in thought and in their goals, and humans are just in the way. In this regard, it reminds me of Lovecraft – humanity getting trod on like a bug, the trodder not even knowing we were there.

Closer … closer …

What every OSR player will want to read the book for are the descriptions (and they go on and on and on, so be prepared) of the lair of the Metal Monsters and of the monsters themselves. The book is a veritable thesaurus of color words and, frankly, is the only book I’ve ever read that made me wish it were turned into a CGI spectacular on film. Except, the deeper you get into it, the more you realize it couldn’t be. Aside from the fact that Hollywood couldn’t get a book right if they had a gun to their heads (yes, Pixar too), the Metal Monsters and their world are just too much to animate. The only way you could turn Merritt’s vision into a film would be if you could project the visions inside the mind of Jack Kirby while reading the book directly onto a big screen. I’m convinced Kirby read this book and was influenced by it – the cosmic grandeur of it all struck me as very Kirbyesque.

A new world? A metal world!


The thought spun through my mazed brain, was gone—and not until long after did I remember it. For suddenly all that clamor died; the lightnings ceased; all the flitting radiances paled and the sea of flaming splendors grew thin as moving mists. The storming shapes dulled with them, seemed to darken into the murk.


Through the fast-waning light and far, far away—miles it seemed on high and many, many miles in length—a broad band of fluorescent amethyst shone. From it dropped curtains, shimmering, nebulous as the marching folds of the aurora; they poured, cascaded, from the amethystine band.


Huge and purple-black against their opalescence bulked what at first I thought a mountain, so like was it to one of those fantastic buttes of our desert Southwest when their castellated tops are silhouetted against the setting sun; knew instantly that this was but subconscious striving to translate into terms of reality the incredible.


It was a City!


A city full five thousand feet high and crowned with countless spires and turrets, titanic arches, stupendous domes! It was as though the man-made cliffs of lower New York were raised scores of times their height, stretched a score of times their length. And weirdly enough it did suggest those same towering masses of masonry when one sees them blacken against the twilight skies.

That’s more like it! Well, almost.

And the Metal Monsters. The fact that these things have never been given D&D stats on par with the modrons, slaad, demons and devils is a crime. They’re fascinating, extremely powerful, and would make wonderful foils for a band of very high level adventurers. Reading the book, one could imagine, with the monsters’ power level turned down a bit, a band of Mentzer D&D characters on the path to immortality tangling with these fellows. A cursory list of the monster entries would be (and yeah, I’m doing these guys – I call dibs):

Tiny Metal Monster (Spheres, Cubes and Pyramids) – Solitary and Swarm

Small Metal Monster (Spheres, Cubes and Pyramids) – Solitary and Swarm

Medium Metal Monster (Spheres, Cubes and Pyramids) – Solitary and Swarm

Large Metal Monster (Spheres, Cubes and Pyramids) – Solitary and Swarm

Advanced Metal Monsters – Discs, Crosses and Stars – maybe large and huge

The Keeper (Unique)

The Metal Emperor (Unique)

Of course, Norhala will need stats as well.

Listen, I couldn’t do justice to his book if I tried. It drags in a few places, and it will absolutely bend your brain in half a few times trying to picture what Merritt is describing, but for folks in fantasy and sci-fi gaming, it is indeed a must-read book.

“I saw a world, a vast world, Goodwin, marching stately through space. It was no globe—it was a world of many facets, of smooth and polished planes; a huge blue jewel world, dimly luminous; a crystal world cut out from Aether. A geometric thought of the Great Cause, of God, if you will, made material. It was airless, waterless, sunless.


“I seemed to draw closer to it. And then I saw that over every facet patterns were traced; gigantic symmetrical designs; mathematical hieroglyphs. In them I read unthinkable calculations, formulas of interwoven universes, arithmetical progressions of armies of stars, pandects of the motions of the suns. In the patterns was an appalling harmony—as though all the laws from those which guide the atom to those which direct the cosmos were there resolved into completeness—totalled.


“The faceted world was like a cosmic abacist, tallying as it marched the errors of the infinite.


“The patterned symbols constantly changed form. I drew nearer—the symbols were alive. They were, in untold numbers—These!”


He pointed to the Thing that bore us.


“I was swept back; looked again upon it from afar. And a fantastic notion came to me—fantasy it was, of course, yet built I know around a nucleus of strange truth. It was”—his tone was half whimsical, half apologetic—”it was that this jeweled world was ridden by some mathematical god, driving it through space, noting occasionally with amused tolerance the very bad arithmetic of another Deity the reverse of mathematical—a more or less haphazard Deity, the god, in fact, of us and the things we call living.

Four Day Planet by H Beam Piper

I just finished listening to an audio book of H. Beam Piper’s Four Day Planet on LibriVox. I’d never heard of Piper before, and really just picked the book at random from a list of sci-fi titles that had recently showed up on the site. Of course, that’s the wonderful thing about the internet – churning up all sorts of wonderful (or even mediocre) stuff that you’ve never heard of and serving it up free of charge. Between LibriVox, the Internet Archive and GoogleBooks, I defy you not to stay entertained with a computer and hi speed connection. Anyhow …

Four Day Planet is not fine literature – it’s not even among the better scientifiction that I’ve read (or listened to, in this case). The dialogue is stilted, the plot is okay as it goes – nothing ground breaking, but told competently – and the characters are pretty wooden. So why would I recommend it? Because it strikes me as a wonderful “gazetteer” for games like Traveler – a really well realized and interesting setting for science fiction games.

The “four day planet” of the title is Fenris – inhabitable by humans, but only just. It has a four day year, spending half of it as a boiling hell hole and the other half as a frozen iceball. There is native life, mostly in the oceans, and humanity living in a large bunker-city. The main industry of the planet is the collection and sale of “tallow” – a waxy substance taken from massive sea creatures called “sea monsters”. The tallow is collected by monster hunters, guys who work on “boats” that act as both submarine and aircraft – in essence, futuristic whalers. What Piper lacks in storytelling or characterization, he makes up for in a fantastical-but-believable science fiction world and universe.

If you’re a Traveler player or enjoy semi-realistic sci-fi, I suggest giving this one a listen or read. You can also find it on Project Gutenberg.

The Wonders of the Mountain

Here’s a nice piece of prose by George MacDonald from his story The Princess and the Curdie.

“All this outside the mountain! But the inside, who shall tell what lies there? Caverns of awfullest solitude, their walls miles thick, sparkling with ores of gold or silver, copper or iron, tin or mercury, studded perhaps with precious stones – perhaps a brook, with eyeless fish in it, running, running ceaselessly, cold and babbling, through banks crusted with carbuncles and golden topazes, or over a gravel of which some of the stones arc rubies and emeralds, perhaps diamonds and sapphires – who can tell? – and whoever can’t tell is free to think – all waiting to flash, waiting for millions of ages – ever since the earth flew off from the sun, a great blot of fire, and began to cool.

Then there are caverns full of water, numbingly cold, fiercely hot – hotter than any boiling water. From some of these the water cannot get out, and from others it runs in channels as the blood in the body: little veins bring it down from the ice above into the great caverns of the mountain’s heart, whence the arteries let it out again, gushing in pipes and clefts and ducts of all shapes and kinds, through and through its bulk, until it springs newborn to the light, and rushes down the Mountainside in torrents, and down the valleys in rivers – down, down, rejoicing, to the mighty lungs of the world, that is the sea, where it is tossed in storms and cyclones, heaved up in billows, twisted in waterspouts, dashed to mist upon rocks, beaten by millions of tails, and breathed by millions of gills, whence at last, melted into vapour by the sun, it is lifted up pure into the air, and borne by the servant winds back to the mountaintops and the snow, the solid ice, and the molten stream.”

Image by Charles Folkard via Golden Age Comic Book Stories.

Meme’s Away! The Fantasy Masterworks List

Via The Silver Key

Bold means I’ve read it, italics means I own it but haven’t read it yet. And yes, I’m ashamed at how many I’ve yet to read.

1 – The Book of the New Sun, Volume 1: Shadow and Claw – Gene Wolfe
2 – Time and the Gods – Lord Dunsany
3 – The Worm Ouroboros – E.R. Eddison
4 – Tales of the Dying Earth – Jack Vance
5 – Little, Big – John Crowley
6 – The Chronicles of Amber – Roger Zelazny
7 – Viriconium – M. John Harrison
8 – The Conan Chronicles, Volume 1: The People of the Black Circle – Robert E. Howard
9 – The Land of Laughs – Jonathan Carroll
10 – The Compleat Enchanter: The Magical Misadventures of Harold Shea – L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt
11 – Lud-in-the-Mist – Hope Mirrlees
12 – The Book of the New Sun, Volume 2: Sword and Citadel – Gene Wolfe
13 – Fevre Dream – George R. R. Martin
14 – Beauty – Sheri S. Tepper
15 – The King of Elfland’s Daughter – Lord Dunsany
16 – The Conan Chronicles, Volume 2: The Hour of the Dragon – Robert E. Howard
17 – Elric – Michael Moorcock
18 – The First Book of Lankhmar – Fritz Leiber
19 – Riddle-Master – Patricia A. McKillip
20 – Time and Again – Jack Finney
21 – Mistress of Mistresses – E.R. Eddison
22 – Gloriana or the Unfulfill’d Queen – Michael Moorcock
23 – The Well of the Unicorn – Fletcher Pratt
24 – The Second Book of Lankhmar – Fritz Leiber
25 – Voice of Our Shadow – Jonathan Carroll
26 – The Emperor of Dreams – Clark Ashton Smith
27 – Lyonesse I: Suldrun’s Garden – Jack Vance
28 – Peace – Gene Wolfe
29 – The Dragon Waiting – John M. Ford
30 – Corum: The Prince in the Scarlet Robe – Michael Moorcock
31 – Black Gods and Scarlet Dreams – C.L. Moore
32 – The Broken Sword – Poul Anderson
33 – The House on the Borderland and Other Novels – William Hope Hodgson
34 – The Drawing of the Dark – Tim Powers
35 – Lyonesse II and III: The Green Pearl and Madouc – Jack Vance
36 – The History of Runestaff – Michael Moorcock
37 – A Voyage to Arcturus – David Lindsay
38 – Darker Than You Think – Jack Williamson
39 – The Mabinogion – Evangeline Walton
40 – Three Hearts and Three Lions – Poul Anderson
41 – Grendel – John Gardner [I guess the original doesn’t count]
42 – The Iron Dragon’s Daughter – Michael Swanwick
43 – WAS – Geoff Ryman
44 – Song of Kali – Dan Simmons
45 – Replay – Ken Grimwood
46 – Sea Kings of Mars and Other Worldly Stories – Leigh Brackett
47 – The Anubis Gates – Tim Powers
48 – The Forgotten Beasts of Eld – Patricia A. McKillip
49 – Something Wicked This Way Comes – Ray Bradbury
50 – The Mark of the Beast and Other Fantastical Tales – Rudyard Kipling

I guess I’ll have to get busy. Still – no HPL or CAS, and I have another couple Dunsanys that aren’t on the list.