Showing posts with label Edgar Rice Burroughs. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Edgar Rice Burroughs. Show all posts

Tuesday, November 05, 2019

Robert Hewitt Wolfe's THE GOBLIN CROWN Continues a Long Standing Fantasy Tradition

It is a sign of the times that it took me three years to discover The Goblin Crown by Robert Hewitt Wolfe. I'd like to put most of the blame on the fact that we live in an era where there is more genre content being produced in a year than can be easily consumed in a lifetime and a good deal of that content is self-published, Kickstarted, or patron supported. I'd like that to be where I place the blame, but it was more likely due to the fact that I am in the process of earning my Ph.D. and don't have as much time to delve into the Science Fiction and Fantasy mid-list and new author stacks as I used to have.

While Robert Hewitt Wolfe's is an accomplished television writer whose credits range from Star Trek: The Next Generation to Elementary and include The Dresden Files (which gives him significant geek cred) and the underappreciated superhero show Alphas. The vast majority of Wolfe's television writing has been genre work, so it is not surprising that his first novel The Goblin Crown would be a Fantasy novel that is heavily steeped in genre tropes.

The Goblin Crown is the first volume of a series of (at least) three books in which Wolfe tells the tales of three high school students as they are transported into a fantasy realm. These teenagers are  the socially awkward Billy Smith, the angsty Lexi Aquino, and the prototypical quarterback Kurt Novac. These students must find a way to work together and combine their unique talents to help save the day for a desperate and outnumbered people, who are on the verge of extinction as war ravages the realms. These people are currently being rallied by a charismatic leader in a last desperate push for survival.

The twist? It is the Goblins who need saving from a massive human army. Goblin prophecy states that when Goblins most need them, a king from another world will arrive to save them and one of these young adventurers is destined to be that king.

What Works? 

Wolfe's talents as a writer are quickly apparent as he doesn't hesitate to make the main antagonist of this volume as psychologically complex and compelling as any of the protagonists. Wolfe's use of point of view characters is spot on for maximum emotional effect. We allowed to see into the mind of a hopeful Goblin named Hop who has quested into the depths of Mother Mountain to see if a new Goblin King has been sent. We become acutely aware of the worries and stresses of young Billy and Lexi as they adapt to this new world. Most importantly we get to experience the torment of General Sawtooth who wants to preserve his people, even as he knows he may have been misled by The Dark Lady and that his people may be doomed. The characters are compelling and have clear motivations that set up the conflict to come.

As mentioned earlier, Wolfe's basic conceit is that our young protagonists have been transported into another world. This is a common trope in fantasy and science fiction that is some variation of the "Trapped in Another World" trope and the "Down the Rabbit Hole" trope. While this is a common trope, it is one that has been used to great success by to many authors to list here, but that list includes like Edgar Rice Burroughs, L. Sprague de Camp, Michael Moorcock, and Andre Norton. For the trope to be successful, the conceit must be delivered quick and painlessly. The author must not make the reader wait too long before being transported into the magic realm and God forbid the author spend too much time describing the how and why the transportation works. Best to pull the veil away in a rapid and compelling fashion.

Let's examine a couple of archetypical examples of the genre.

In "Solomon's Stone," author Sprague de Camp transports his protagonist from our world into the Astral Plane. The protagonist, Prosper Nash, is transported by the will of a demon he and his friends summoned at an evening's dinner party.
Prosper Nash felt a tremendous shock, as if a destroyer had dropped a depth bomb on him. While his mind strove to keep a grip on his body, he could feel that body being pulled out of his mental clutches--going--going--gone!

He was moving with great speed--or falling; it was like an express-elevator plunge, only more so...

Keep your head, J. Prosper. Let's take a look at this astral body of ours first.
-- L. Sprague de Camp "Solomon's Stone" Unknown Worlds vol. 6 no. 1 (1942).

It's quick and too the point. Sprague de Camp gives us a little more of the "whys and wherefores" of travel beyond the veil of the mundane in his more famous Harold Shea "Enchanter" stories, but he still gets us there quickly.

There, on sheets of paper spread before him, were the logical equations, with their little horseshoes, upside-down T's, and identity signs. 
His scalp prickled a trifle as he gazed at them. But what the hell! Stand by for adventure and romance! He bent over, giving his whole attention to the formulas, trying not to focus on one spot, but to apprehend the whole:

'If P equals not-Q, Q implies not-P, which is equivalent to saying either P or Q or neither, but not both. But if not-P is not implied by not-Q,  the counter-implicative form of the proposition--'

There was nothing bu six sheets of paper. Just that, lying in two neat rows of three sheets, with perhaps half an inch between them. There should be strips of table showing between them. But there was nothing--nothing...>

It is through this focus on a logical equation that Harold Shea is transported to Midgard's border and where is adventure begins. L. Sprague de Camp's tales were inspirational to Gary Gygax as he worked on the Dungeons & Dragons role playing game, and that work in turn inspired Andre Norton's Quag Keep, which uses magical lead miniatures as the conceit (and does so much quicker than de Camp). One of the most iconic versions of the Trapped in Another World trope is Edgar Rice Burroughs' A Princess of Mars, which sees Civil War Captain John Carter transported to the fantastic world of Barsoom through sheer force of will.

As I stood thus meditating, I turned my gaze from the landscape to the heavens where the myriad stars formed a gorgeous and fitting canopy for the wonders of the earthly scene. My situation was quickly riveted by a large red star close to the distant horizon. As I gazed upon it I felt a spell of overpowering fascination--it was Mars, the god of war, and for me, the fighting man, it had always held the power of irresistible enchantment. As I gazed at it an on that far gone night it seemed to call across the unthinkable void, to lure me to it, to draw me as a lodestone attracts a particle of iron.

My longing was beyond the power of opposition; I closed my eyes, stretched out my arms toward the god of my vocation and felt myself drawn with the suddenness of thought through the trackless immensity of space. There was an instant of extreme cold and darkness...
And...BOOM! He's on Mars. It's powerful imagery that makes no logical sense. We are given no plausible reason for the transportation to work, but it does and it is magical. This is the kind of conceit Wolfe uses in his book as Billy wills himself into another world:

What do I do? Please, please, Billy prayed silently, I have to get her out of here.

At that moment, Billy saw real light, a shining cell phone, illuminating the culvert.
Unfortunately, it was carried by the last person Billy wanted to see.

"What are you idiots doing?" It was Kurt. And he sounded furious.

Billy tried to catch his breath, push past the pain, and lift Lexi, anything to get her away from Kurt. To get Lexi to safety.

I need to get out. I need to be anyplace but here.

Then, suddenly, as if in answer to Billy's unspoken wish, the world around him shifted, warped, and bent. His stomach lurched. His ears popped. And just like that--

Billy was somewhere else.

Wolfe's description of transportation here is a combination of Burroughs and de Camp and it works nicely. You have the desperation of the scene, the compulsion to get away, and that's enough. Wolfe doesn't spend pages describing how and why the kids are transported, just that Billy wants to go and so they do. This is a fantasy novel and that comes with suspension of disbelief. When the trope used is a common one, such suspension is easy and granted eagerly. Don't spend time describing how and why, that only opens up the critical eye and limits the visceral experience. Wolfe understands this and takes us away quickly.

The reader is exposed to the world of the Hanorian Empire and Mother Mountain, which isn't given a world name in The Goblin Crown, at a nice pace. It's clear by his inclusion of Burroughs-esque use of language (and language acquisition) that Wolfe has a mapped out a compelling fantasy world. It may lack the Mythopoetic realism of Tolkien's Middle Earth, but it is logically consistent and has a history that mirrors the migrations, expansions, and invasions of real Earth history. If you don't find echoes of actual historical engagements between cultures in the backdrop of this story, you aren't paying attention. Wolfe has set up a clash of civilizations that views both societies as "human," with all the virtues and flaws that entails, which allows him to explore moral complexities.

While the majority of The Goblin Crown takes place within Goblin society, readers are given enough of human history to see a broader world. This first volume spends its time building Goblin society, and it's a rich one. We are given glimpses of the Goblin worship of  the Night Goddess and the justness of the religion's matriarch. These are not Warhammer's mindless Goblins. While they are still the untrustworthy, sneaky, and vicious Goblins we are used to, they are also a gentle, family minded, and caring people. Wolfe humanizes the Goblins without demonizing the humans and it makes the impending conflict more powerful.

One of the most developed aspects of the world, is the underlying magic system of the races. Humans, who worship the sun, have fire based magic and Goblins, who worship the Night Goddess, have cold based magic. Each system has strengths and weaknesses and both systems of magic come with the risk of madness and death if they are overused. We as readers are able to learn the intricacies of the magic system through the interactions between Lexi and a Goblin Wizard named Frost. After being transported to the new world, Lexi discovers that she is a Fire Mage and that her fiery temper may well lead her down the road to destruction.


As entertaining as The Goblin Crown is, I read it in an afternoon and ordered the sequel immediately thereafter, it isn't a perfect novel. 

Even as one of the novel's major is how well developed the majority of Wolfe's characters are, there are holes. While General Sawtooth, the major antagonist of the novel, is offered as a point of view character, Kurt Novac isn't. Given that Kurt is one of the core four characters (maybe five if you count Frost), having to rely on his conversations with other characters to reveal his inner thoughts is a bit of a letdown. We get Lexi, Billy, Hop, and Sawtooth as point of view characters. Leaving Kurt out of this list maked it seem like the author was attempting to prolong a mystery that wasn't really a mystery. Was the only reason Kurt wasn't used for point of view to leave us wondering who the Goblin King really was? Given the title of the novel, and the copy on the back cover of the book, one hopes not. Kurt needed to be explored a little more, especially since the character does evolve and shift from antagonist to one of the heroes as the book progresses.

The second area for critique is very much related to the first. The initial narrative misdirection regarding who and what the Goblin King is and how it is chosen was unecessary. While this misdirection leads to some very important narrative outcomes, and allows the point of view character to learn more about the world and their new abilities, it felt like a bit of a cheat. This is exacerbated by the fact that it's pretty obvious. It's a mystery without a mystery. It's like guessing who the murderer in a typical episode of Matlock is. We all know it's the Guest Star. What makes Matlock interesting isn't the who, but the why. Had the misdirection explored the why of the Goblin King, it would have worked. Instead, it was primarily a vehicle to move the characters from one location to another.

Final Thoughts

Setting aside these two relatively minor critiques, The Goblin Crown was a fun ride. It has a narrative and cast of characters that appeals to our inner child with a complex moral backdrop that engages our more cynical adult minds. If you love fantasy for all ages, or have a tween who is looking for a series to start, you couldn't do better than The Goblin Crown. Wolfe draws inspiration for Edgar Rice Burroughs, de Camp, Tolkien, and classic children's tales and creates a world worth exploring.

And explore this world is something I'll be doing over the next couple of weeks. I'll be writing up statistics for some of the main characters for a role playing game. I haven't decided on which game to use yet, but I'm leaning toward Genesys, Shadow of the Demon Lord (hey, he's planning a Kid Friendly Version), The Index Card RPG, or Symbaroum.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Checking out THUNDAR...No, Not THUNDARR, but THUNDAR.

I recently purchased a book that some claim was an inspiration for the THUNDARR THE BARBARIAN cartoon. I wanted to judge for myself if this was true and to read the story.

I've only read the first 30 pages, but I'll say that I think claims of inspiration are much overstated. The book is clearly a Burroughs pastiche that falls somewhere between the Thongor novels and the Gor books. That's not high praise. I'm not saying the book is terrible, but the storyline, world, and characters wouldn't lead me to create the post-apocalyptic world of THUNDARR and the "Thundar" name here seems more a riff on Lin Carter's Thongor.

It's an interesting look at other world planetary romance. Though better entries in that genre include THE DARK WORLD by Henry Kuttner, GUARDIANS OF THE FLAME by Joel Rosenberg, THE ARCHITECT OF SLEEP by Steve Boyett, and QUAG KEEP by Andre Norton, not to mention the entire John Carter cycle by Edgar Rice Burroughs.

I'll slog through the rest of the book to see if I can pull any good gaming material from it. I think there might be one or two good ideas here and there. If there are, I will share them.

Thursday, August 06, 2015

#RPGaDay2015: [Day 1] Exciting Forthcoming Game

Last year, Dave Chapman aka +Autocratik created a blog prompt called #RPGaDAY wherein Dave did all of us amateur bloggers a favor by giving us 31 ideas for blog posts. The intention is that bloggers would write 31 posts over the course of a month and it was very successful last year. I was one of the participants, but I did not manage to post all 31 days. In fact, I think I only managed half a dozen or so. Even with that disappointment, I'm trying again this year even though I'm starting 5 days after the fact.

Let's move past the prologue and get to today's#RPGaDAY2015 answer:

Since I'm already a couple of days behind, and I'll be trying to catch up over the next few days, I'll keep this short.

The forthcoming game I am most looking forward to is... 

I've been a big fan of Modiphius, the publisher of the upcoming Edgar Rice Burroughs' John Carter role playing game, since I backed their Achtung! Cthulhu role playing game on Kickstarter a couple of years ago. That role playing game setting was compatible with both the Savage Worlds and Call of Cthulhu role playing games at publication and it seemed like a nice counterpart to Weird War II. The new John Carter game, which should be out by Christmas of this year, uses Modiphius Entertainment's own game system entitled the 2d20 LITE system. It's a streamlined version of the system they had designed for their new Mutant Chronicles role playing game. The design lead on the 2d20 system was Jay Little, who is one of my favorite game designers, and the mechanics are sound.

To quote Modiphius' Press Release:
John Carter —The Roleplaying Game: Due for release: Christmas 2015
Explore the wonders of Barsoom from the vast deserts to the ancient cities. Discover the forgotten secrets of a world that was old when life first spawned in the oceans of Earth. Play as pilots, warriors, scientists, or one of the terrifying green Tharks.  Create you own Barsoom adventures or take on the great journeys as John Carter himself along side Dejah Thoris, Kantos Kan, Xodar, Tars Tarkas, Thuvia of Ptarth, Carthoris of Helium or any of the other major heroes and heroines of Barsoom.

The John Carter roleplaying game uses 2d20 LITE—a streamlined version of the 2d20 system featured in the Mutant Chronicles, INFINITY and Conan roleplaying games. Designed for fast flowing action accentuating the exuberant adventures of the original books, 2d20 LITE let’s you dive into the game immediately with a sleek, pulse-pounding system. Major industry artists will help bring Barsoom to life. 
 Edgar Rice Burroughs and Michael Moorcock were the two figures who most shaped my early fiction tastes and I am more than excited to see a Planetary Romance game based on Burroughs' influential series make it to print.

I interviewed Chris Birch of Modiphius last year on Geekrati about Achtung! Cthulhu and Mutant Chronicles last year and it looks like the company continues to grow.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Why "The Brave" Trailer is Superior to "Wrath of the Titans" Trailer

Before I post the two trailers in question and critique the "Titans" trailer, I just want to state for the record that I am jazzed to see both of these movies. They both look like fun and appeal to my inner child.

Now take a minute to watch the trailer for "The Brave." It's only a couple of minutes long.

The trailer is essentially 2 minutes, or so, taken straight out of the film. Two minutes that encapsulate a story on their own, that hint at the stakes surrounding the situation, and that entertain. I now want to see the movie now more than ever, and have the sense that the film will make me weep as its twists are revealed.

Now take a minute to watch the trailer for "Wrath of the Titans."

From the opening BWAAAAAM -- straight out of "Inception" -- there is cut scene after cut scene of ever escalating action that reveals that our hero will have to battle many mythical beasts over the course of the film. Never mind that a releasing of the Titans, and their war against humanity, would make for an exciting series of films let alone a single picture. A fact that makes it appear as if this film will be trying to do too much in too little time, and at the expense of creating an actual narrative. The action scenes are compelling, and heighten my desire to see the spectacle of the film, but they do little to invest me emotionally in the film.

Both trailers make me want to watch the films, but one demonstrates that the film I will be watching will make me feel something emotionally while the other bludgeons me with spectacle.

I can't help but feel that the reliance on a spectacle oriented trailer, rather than an emotional one, for the upcoming "John Carter" film is a bad move. There is action in the John Carter series of tales, to be sure, but there is also a great romance. It is a mythic romance and the trailers have done little to convey that fact. I would even go so far as to say that the Super Bowl trailer made me want to watch the film less.

Compare the "John Carter: Virginia" clip to the Super Bowl ad. The Virginia clip makes me want to watch the movie, the Super Bowl ad makes me believe that Disney doesn't really believe in the story or that the characters are worth highlighting. Thankfully, the Virginia clip exists and lets me know that there will be character development -- even if it is apocryphal -- and not just spectacle.

I'll take Virginia over spectacle any day, and I'll take a short continual glimpse into the world over clips featuring the soundtrack of "Inception."

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Disney's "John Carter" Teaser Trailer Captures the Wonder of the Imagination

I have mentioned in the past that it was Michael Moorcock who instilled in me a love of fantasy, and that it was Edgar Rice Burroughs who instilled in me an everlasting and insatiable love of reading.  Those who have seen my overflowing book shelves, and my large storage unit filled with books and games, might find the fact that I once claimed that English was my least favorite subject due to all the reading a little incredible.

...seriously, who has a storage unit filled with books and games?...

Of all of Burroughs tales, it was his wonderful John Carter Planetary Romances that sparked my imagination to wonder at distant shores.  It was these books that gave me an insatiable hunger to experience that kind of escape and profound sense of greatness.  It wasn't that Burroughs wordsmithery was profoundly great and beautiful.  It was his ability to convey just enough information for your own mind to create that sense of wonder that kept me coming back.

The John Carter stories -- with their stilted Edwardian/Victorian morality -- provided an interesting and valuable look at love and courage.  It was a point of view that was often lacking in much of the fiction of the my youth, which was more jaded and more realistic in the presentation of relationships.  

Even Elric -- tragic, ironic, sardonic, immoral, cynical, despicable as he is -- is a student of John Carter when it comes to love.  His love for Cymoril, and his remorse over her death, echo Carter's love.   No man can love a woman as much as Carter loves Dejah Thoris, and maybe no man should, but it makes for wonderful romance.

By the looks of the preview, the upcoming Disney film manages to capture some of the wonder and romance of the Burroughs tales in addition to all of the action.  If the preview is any indication, the film also manages to capture the feel of the alien yet familiar geography of Barsoom.  Disney's John Carter doesn't look like "my" imagined one -- which was heavily Michael Whelan influenced -- but it does capture my imagination.

I have high hopes for this film.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

New "John Carter of Mars" Anthology to Be Released in 2012

It would not be an understatement to say that Edgar Rice Burroughs is the reason I read as voraciously as I do today. My introduction to SF/F were the Fairy Tales of Hans Christian Anderson. My first glimpse into modern Fantasy was Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. The author who came to define the genre for me was Michael Moorcock. But it was Edgar Rice Burroughs who showed me all that SF/F can be. His fiction had everything. If I wanted to read "lost worlds" fiction, Burroughs was there. Historical fiction that bordered on Fantasy? Burroughs was there. Wild visions of other worlds that combined soap operatic romance with pulse pounding action? Burroughs was there. Westerns? Cave men? Dinosaurs? Bizarre Aliens? Post Apocalyptic adventure?

Burrough's imagination has always seemed limitless to me. His writing style was workmanlike and efficient in delivering its tale, and finding poetic beauty in one of his tales isn't always an easy task, but the story telling and the ideas are truly remarkable. He arguably created the genre of Planetary Romance with his John Carter stories (though they become formulaic at times), a genre that Leigh Brackett then mastered, but Burroughs returned to the genre in his Venus adventures and did a little post-modern deconstruction of the genre.

Burroughs showed me that written stories were the best tool to open up the imagination. He showed me in ways that a less prolific author, or a better writer, never could have. My mind filled in the details of the gaps in his writing, and it wondered what new genre Burroughs would be introducing me to in the next book I picked up.

What made Burroughs great, and why he inspired me to be a voracious reader, was that he wrote essentially every genre. My love for one author made me a lover of stories. Not a lover of stories of a particular genre, but of stories in the broader sense. It's the reason I'll read anything, and it's also the reason I'm able to talk with people about Gossip Girl, Hellcats, and uncountable Romantic Comedies. I love story, and I have Burroughs to thank for that.

I mention that Burroughs created my love of story because it was just announced that Simon and Schuster books will be releasing a new anthology of John Carter stories written by many of today's leading authors. The book is being edited by one of my favorite anthology editors, John Joseph Adams, and is scheduled to be released just before the new John Carter movie next year.

But it wasn't just the announcement that made me think about why I love Burroughs was the list of authors who will be contributing to the tome. If you were to ask me to create a list of authors "I would select" who would write in a publication featuring new tales of John Carter, it might look like the following:

1) Michael Moorcock
2) Lois McMaster Bujold
3) James Enge
4) Chris Roberson
5) Howard Andrew Jones
6) Ursula K. LeGuin
7) George R. R. Martin
8) Mike Resnick
9) C.J. Cherryh
10) Michael Chabon

Those would be the "big names" I would include off the top of my head. Some of these authors would be chosen for their own confessed love of Burroughs, and others to see what they would do with Burroughs' characters. I'm particularly interested in what Bujold would do.

Surprisingly, not one of those authors is listed as a writer in the upcoming publication. I actually find the lack of Moorcock and Roberson shocking...shocking I tell you.

Instead, this is the list of authors:

1) Joe R. Lansdale
2) Jonathan Maberry
3) David Barr Kirtley
4) Peter S. Beagle
5) Tobias S. Buckell
6) Robin Wasserman
7) Theodora Goss
8) Genevieve Valentine
9) L. E. Modesitt, Jr.
10) Garth Nix
11) Chris Claremont
12) S. M. Stirling
13) Catherynne M. Valente
14) Austin Grossman

There are many talented authors on the list, as well as a few I've never read. What sets this list apart from the list I wrote earlier, is that I wonder what exactly a John Carter story would look like from each of these authors. I have a good idea of what a Moorcock one would look like -- he did do his own Mars planetary romance series after all -- but I have no idea what Theodora Goss' version of planetary romance is. These authors come from across the speculative fiction spectrum. The list includes authors who write Young Adult Fiction, Horror, Short Fiction, Comic Books, "Literary" SF/F, and Classic Fantasy.

I excitedly await the volume and will be investigating the fiction of some of its authors -- the ones I haven't read yet -- to get a glimpse of what Adams has in store for us as Burroughs fans.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Traci Lords is Dejah Thoris!

From the folks at The Asylum, those masters of Mockbuster films, comes A Princess of Mars.

Antonio Sabato Jr. is John Carter.

Traci Lords is Dejah Thoris.

I cannot make this up.

Hey Disney! This is what happens when you take forever with a public domain property.

The Asylum version of A Princess of Mars comes out on December 29, 2009. I don't care how mind-numbingly bad this is. I must own it. I must own it.

Thanks to Bill Cunningham for the tip.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

John Carter of Mars and The Queen of the Iron Sands

The 90s were a decade of either no news, or bad news, for fans of Planetary Romance, but during the 00's these fans have been experiencing a roller coaster ride of positive news and worrisome news.

For the uninitiated, Planetary Romance stories are a kind of speculative fiction that straddles the line somewhere between fantasy and science fiction. The stories are fantasy in that they often incorporate magic systems, princesses, and mystical experiences. They are science fiction in that they often take place on other worlds.

The genre was largely created by the Edgar Rice Burroughs novel A Princess of Mars featuring Burroughs' second most famous character John Carter of Mars. In story, readers encounter the Civil War veteran -- who is of indeterminate age and possibly unaging -- John Carter as he mystically transports himself to Mars (or as the Martian natives call it, Barsoom) after being near fatally injured. While on Barsoom, encounters alien races, falls in love with the most beautiful woman in the universe, and participates in large scale war. The book established the basic tropes for the genre, tropes which have been used to great success in literature and film in everything from Leigh Brackett's John Eric Stark stories to George Lucas' Star Wars films. There is a reason that Brackett was selected to write a draft of Empire Strikes Back and that reason is that Star Wars sits firmly in the genre of Planetary Romance -- as does Flash Gordon.

Planetary Romance stories are more about adventure, romance, and the unknown than they are about science or political commentary -- though there are exceptions. There are many wonderfully written novels and stories within the genre, but there is also material some consider to be offensive drivel. I can remember stumbling upon the Gor novels of John Norman because of some basic underlying similarities between it and Burroughs' Martian novels. Traditional Planetary Romance novels advocate Victorian sensibilities about virtue and heroism, much like Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World (an interesting experiment is to read The Lost World and The Heart of Darkness back to back), and love is presented as an ideal akin to Courtly Love. The heroes of Burroughs' novels nearly swoon with affection for their beloved, a beloved who is perfect beyond compare. The Gor novels turned this on their head as Norman's novels were erotica disguised as Planetary Romance. Let's just say that this came as quite a shock to my 8th grade self, and to this day I don't have an appreciation for the Gor novels.

Needless to say, Planetary Romance is a rich and important sub-genre of fiction and one that I highly recommend.

Some of the roller coaster peaks in recent years have included:
  • The University of Nebraska Press editions of Edgar Rice Burroughs' Martian Stories, Moon Stories, and Venus Stories.
  • The Planet Stories line of books by Paizo Press.
  • Chris Roberson's Paragaea
  • Jon Favreau being selected to direct the John Carter movie. Even though he seemed overly influenced by the art of Frank Frazetta, and not enough influenced by the art of Michael Whelan or Frank Schoonover, Favreau was a great choice...before he had to leave the project and make an awesome version of Iron Man.

Some of the roller coaster valleys have included:
  • The selection of Robert Rodriguez to direct the John Carter of Mars movie. I'm a Rodriguez fan, but the thought of his "lowest budget possible" mentality underlying a John Carter film just rubbed me the wrong way. Sure his Harryhausen homage was fun, but...John Carter in DV Cam isn't my idea of cool.
  • The recent three Star Wars films which hinted at how good Planetary Romance can be, while simultaneously showing us how bad it can be.
  • The recent Flash Gordon series. Seriously, WTF?!

As noted above, a lot of the news -- good and bad -- for Planetary Romance fans centers around a John Carter project. One is still slated for production by Disney with Andrew Stanton at the helm, and Michael Chabon attached to the screenplay. So far that seems like good news for the Planetary Romance fan...but there is news about the project that should make fans worry too.

One can easily overlook that Stanton hasn't done a project like this before, Doug Liman hadn't directed a spy movie before Bourne Identity, because Stanton's other film work has been extraordinary. That's not what is worrisome. What is worrisome is the casting.

Taylor Kitsch (Gambit from Wolverine) has been selected to play the title role. Unless his performance in Wolverine was atypical, I cannot imagine him as remotely capable of capturing the charm and power of the Carter character.

I am less worried, but only cautiously optimistic, regarding the casting of Lynn Collins as Dejah Thoris. After all, who can play "the most beautiful woman in the universe?" That's a pretty tough title to live up to, but I like the fact that the casting director didn't equate beauty with "ultra-voluptuous" and try for Scarlett Johansson or someone similar.

Then there's the casting of Willem Defoe -- who has recently become a parody of himself -- and Dominic West -- who I loved in The Wire but who was ridiculous in Punisher: War Zone.

It's gotten to the point that every piece of news I read regarding the upcoming Disney film version of John Carter of Mars has made my inner geek want to run away and hide. Will it be good or will it be awful? The inner 8th grader cannot stand the pressure and needs some new Planetary Romance distraction -- a quality one.

Thankfully, Fantasy author Scott Lynch has recently released a free web-book (at least the first few chapters) of exactly the kind my inner geek needs. A few weeks ago, Lynch began e-publishing Queen of the Iron Sands. He's releasing the story as a "serial novel" and simultaneously paying homage to the classic of Planetary Romance and the serials of the early 20th century.

My inner geek now refuses to hide no matter how bad the news regarding the John Carter film gets and it's all to Scott Lynch's credit. No matter how bad the John Carter film ends up, I know that planetary romance as a genre will live on because talented people are still applying their skills to the genre.