Monday, April 02, 2007

Paizo to Publish Backlisted SF in Planet Stories Line of Books

Magazine and game publisher Paizo Publishing has announced that they will start publishing a line of books featuring backlisted SF and Fantasy titles. The line of books will be published under the heading Planet Stories, and given the nature of the initial catalogue of texts this seems appropriate. Paizo has decided to enter the arena of book publishing in response to the current resistance of larger publishers have to keeping strong backlists. Paizo wants to introduce a new generation of readers to older books which have influenced modern SF and Fantasy, at least that is their claim.

Let's have a look at the validity of that claim by looking at their choices of backlisted books featured in their first wave of publications.

Almuric, by Robert E. Howard, is a savage planet of crumbling stone ruins and debased, near-human inhabitants. Into this world comes Esau Cairn, Earthman, swordsman, murderer. Only he can overthrow the terrible devils that enslave Almuric, but to do so he must first defeat the inner demons that forced him to abandon Earth. Filled with vile beasts and thrilling adventure in the tradition of Edgar Rice Burroughs, Almuric is one of Howard’s few novels, and an excellent yarn from one of America’s most distinct literary voices. Robert E. Howard is most known for creating the fictional character, Conan the Cimmerian (a.k.a. Conan the Barbarian), who has been featured in comic books, short stories, novels, and feature films for over 70 years. Howard's work is often credited as the source of the sword-and-sorcery genre and influenced everyone from J.R.R. Tolkien to George R.R. Martin.

The Anubis Murders, by Gary Gygax, weaves a fantastic tale of warring wizards that spans the world from the pyramids of ancient Egypt to the mist-shrouded towns of medieval England. Someone is murdering the world’s most powerful sorcerers, and the trail of blood leads straight to Anubis, the solemn god known by most as the Master of Jackals. Can Magister Setne Inhetep, personal philosopher-wizard to the Pharaoh, reach the distant kingdom of Avillonia and put an end to the Anubis Murders, or will he be claimed as the latest victim? Gary Gygax co-created the Dungeons & Dragons role-playing game over 30 years ago and has watched it grow to become one of the largest entertainment sources in the hobby gaming industry. Dungeons & Dragons has been played by tens of millions worldwide and the name Gygax is instantly recognizable to any fans of the game, past or present.

City of the Beast/Warriors of Mars, by Michael Moorcock, features the return of Moorcock's Eternal Champion, Kane of Old Mars, a brilliant American physicist whose strange experiments in matter transmission catapult him across space and time to the Red Planet. Kane’s is a Mars of the distant past, a place of romantic civilizations, fabulous many-spired cities, and the gorgeous princess Shizala. To win her hand and bring peace to Mars, Kane must defeat the terrible Blue Giants of the Argzoon, whose ravaging hordes threaten the whole planet! Adventure in the Edgar Rice Burroughs tradition from the creator of Elric of Melnibon√©. The first stand-alone American printing since 1979, City of the Beast/Warrior of Mars will be available this September.

Black God's Kiss, by C.L. Moore, was first published in the pages of Weird Tales in 1934. C.L. Moore’s Jirel of Joiry is the first significant female sword-and-sorcery protagonist and one of the most exciting and evocative characters the genre has ever known. Published alongside seminal works by H.P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard, the five classic fantasy tales included in this volume easily stand the test of time and often overshadow the storytelling power and emotional impact of stories by Moore’s more famous contemporaries. A seminal work from one of fantasy’s most important authors, Black God’s Kiss is an essential addition to any fantasy library and will be available this October.

Elak of Atlantis, by Henry Kuttner. Published in Weird Tales to satisfy fans of Conan the Barbarian in the wake of Robert E. Howard’s death, the four long stories depict a brutal world of flashing swords and primal magic, touched by a hint of Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos. Never collected in a mass market edition since their publication in the late 1930s, these exciting tales helped to establish a genre and are a critical part of any fantasy library. Included as a bonus are Kuttner’s two Prince Raynor stories from 1939’s Strange Tales.

With seminal, thrilling adventure tales from one of the most important writers in science fiction and fantasy, Elak of Atlantis is not to be missed! Available in November 2007.

The Secret of Sinharat, by Leigh Brackett. Enter Eric John Stark, adventurer, rebel, wildman. Raised on the sun-soaked, savage world of Mercury, Stark lives among the people of the civilized solar system, but his veneer of calm masks a warrior’s spirit. In the murderous Martian Drylands the greatest criminals in the galaxy hatch a conspiracy of red revolution. Stark’s involvement leads to the forgotten ruins of the Martian Low Canals, an unlikely romance, and a secret so potent it could shake the Red Planet to its core.

In a special bonus novel, People of the Talisman, Stark ventures to the treacherous polar icecap of Mars to return a stolen talisman to an oppressed people.

The Secret of Sinharat and People of the Talisman make an excellent introduction to the work of Leigh Brackett, a pillar of science fantasy and one of the greatest writers to work in the genre. Talented enough to co-write The Big Sleep with William Faulkner and influential enough to write the original screenplay for The Empire Strikes Back, Brackett’s fiction is no less distinguished than her movie work and never fails to deliver thrills and wry smiles.

One is struck by a few things when looking at the list. First is the fact that three of these novels fall squarely into the genre known as "Planetary Romance" and one of the authors is a seminal figure in that genre, Leigh Brackett. The focus on Planetary Romance makes it a natural that the line of books should be titled Planet Stories. Incidentally, Planet Stories was the name of a magazine in which Leigh Brackett and Ray Bradbury, among others, were frequently featured.

They even feature Robert E. Howard's (creator of Conan) singular foray into the genre, his novel Almuric. Almuric is an unusual Howard story, so unusual that David Drake, who edited a line of Howard books, speculated that the book might have been written by Otis Adelbert Kline and not Howard. The fact that Kline wrote a number of Planetary Romance novels, in playful competition with Edgar Rice Burroughs, makes the case all the more interesting to imagine even if it is mere speculation.

In addition to the focus on Planetary Romance, one other fact strikes me as particular to the selection of novels. The Anubis Murders is far from a seminal work of SF or Fantasy as far as its influence on modern authors goes, but it is written by a figure seminal in the creation of a genre of game very close at heart to Paizo Publishing's heart. Gary Gygax may not be an SF/F legend, but he is a Founding Father of the Roleplaying Game hobby, which is the focus of Paizo Publishing's two magazines.

What concerns me about the list of chosen novels is how much they ignore the truly overlooked backlisted novel. Sure the Moorcock pastiches to Burroughs are fun and overlooked, but the true inspiration are the Burroughs Mars books which are currently being published by the University of Nebraska Press.. The inclusion of Leigh Brackett is a necessary one, but her works are currently being published by Haffner Press. Yes the editions are more expensive than the $13.00 that Paizo will be charging, but they are hardback and include more stories.

I will certainly be purchasing Paizo's catalogue, but I would like to see the publication list expand from the current list.

Tomorrow, I will likely discuss what I think is a large hole in the current gamer/pulp-nostalgia movement.

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