Saturday, September 16, 2017

The Doom That Came to Lanhkmar

So, during those final days of editing and fine tuning and formatting on A WILDERNESS OF DRAGONS, I needed something completely different to read just to give my mind a rest (otherwise I proofread in my sleep, hour and hour, all night long). And I picked Fritz Leiber, author of the best sword and sorcery fiction ever, and read several books of his that've been on my shelves without getting read till now (as well as rereading a few to reconsider my original responses to them).  I find I much prefer him as an author of fantasy than horror or science fiction, and accordingly got rid of some in the end while restoring the rest to a place of pride.

One thing that struck me came in a passage I'd read a number of times before but somehow missed the essential point of. In NIGHT'S BLACK AGENTS, his first book (Arkham House 1947) Leiber devotes his Foreword to an account of the creation of the characters Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser in a pre-1936 letter by his friend Harry Fischer. He mentions how

"More than ten years ago I opened a letter from
Harry Fischer, wondering what strange conceit
was now in store. The Elder Gods had been pretty
 well worked through.*  Even the overweening
Wischmeiers, destined to be immortalized by a
more trenchant pen,** were temporarily exhausted.

"Sandwiched in the many pages of text,
 I came across the following fragment:

"For all do fear the one known as the Gray Mouser . . . 
[description of G.M. follows]

"Until one [foggy] night  . . . --for the walled city of 
the Tuatha De Danaan called Lankhmar was built 
on the edge of the Great Salt Marsh--  there strode
into the group of lounging bravos a pair of monstrous
men . . . [description of Fafhrd follows]

"Anyhow, they met, and the saga of how the Gray Mouser
 and Fafhrd of the Blue Eyes came to the innermost vaults 
of the City of the Forbidden God and there met death in 
the moment of victory in no common fashion, was begun.

"My imagination was enthralled and I responded with a
fragment hinting at some further exploits of the two strange
 ruffians . . . Episodes took form, such as Conquest Among 
the Baldest Rats, The Seventh Eye of Ningauble, The 
Adventure of the Grain Ships . . . Eventually a very few
 of these got actually completed and found their way into print . . .

"But the saga continues and the innermost vaults of 
the City of the Forbidden Gods still seem far away."

 So, for one thing I failed to note the interesting detail about Lankhmar being a city of the Tuatha de  Danaan --whose legends do indeed mention four exotic cities that had been the Tuatha de's homes before they came to Ireland (albeit that 'Lankhmar' is not given as the name of one). It might be worthwhile to see if this is just a casual association or if the old Irish myths have other deeper connections with Leiber's cycle.

For another I missed the fascinating fact that the first mention of the two heroes is in a story intended to end with their deaths. In short, a story very like several of Dunsany's thieves' tales or, more specifically, Clark Ashton Smith's THE TALE OF SATAMPRA ZEIROS. And yet so far as I can tell Leiber never returned to or finished that first story, which was to have begun and ended the whole sequence.

--John R.
--Magnolia.


*!
**whose?
***I know that 'Grain Ships' supposedly eventually turned into the novel SWORDS OF LANKHMAR, fifth book in the compiled Ace Books series, but don't know if the Ningauble story ever got published

Friday, September 15, 2017

I'm in Arkansas

So, today, without realizing it at the time, I passed near a spot that figures in the legend of Bonnie & Clyde, just north of Waldo, Arkansas, where they released two people they'd kidnapped down in Ruston, Louisiana earlier in the day.* I wanted to post a link to the story, but unfortunately it appears to be behind the local paper's paywall. Anyway, here's the link to the opening lines; I'll post more later if I can find out more details about the incident once I'm back in Kent parts:

http://www.magnoliabannernews.com/news/2017/aug/31/when-bonnie-and-clyde-came-waldo/

--John R.

*April 27th, 1933, about a year before their execution by ambush on May 23rd 1934

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Terry Pratchett's steamroller

So, I see the news today that the latest in the Stieg Larsson Lizbeth Salander series, better known as THE GIRL WHO books, is just out.

Of course it's not written by Larsson, who died more than a decade ago, but instead by a noted biographer named David Lagercranz. Nor does it follow any plot left behind by Larsson; it's wholly new material written to continue the series beyond the point where the author stopped.


The good news is that it seems this continuing of an author's setting and characters that has befallen Larsson will not be Terry Pratchett's fate. In fact, Pratchett felt so strongly about his work being his own, not to be continued by other hands, that he left orders for whatever unfinished books he was working on at the time of his death to be destroyed. Which instruction was just carried out by his estate, with a certain amount of panache: running over his computer's hard drive with a steam roller. And not just any 'steam roller' but an actual antique steam-powered one. Here's the story:


https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/aug/30/terry-pratchett-unfinished-novels-destroyed-streamroller

As someone who was an early adaptor and longtime fan of Pratchett's work,* I'm sorry that there won't be any more of it, but at the same time there are plenty of genuine Pratchett books to read and re-read. And a few, even, that I haven't gotten to yet (having found I didn't care for his later books as much).

--John R.


*(esp. the footnotes)

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Twenty Years

So, hard to believe it's been twenty years ago as of the start of September that I moved from Wisconsin to the Seattle area to start my new job at Wizards of the Coast. I'd been hired on to edit the new DOMINARIA roleplaying game, the D&D campaign setting for the world of MAGIC: THE GATHERING, becoming part of a team that consisted of Lisa Stevens, later co-founder of Paizo;  Jonathan Tweet, who went on to gain fame as the chief architect of Third Edition; Jesper Myrfors, the original art designer of MAGIC THE GATHERING; and later Chris Pramas, brought in as a second writer, who eventually left WotC to found Green Ronin.


And yet the project never saw the light of day, having been doomed from the start. I'd known WotC had worked on one MtG rpg before (designed by Mike Selinker and Wolfgang Baur) that something had gone wrong with. What I hadn't known was that the game I was hired to edit was WotC's FOURTH (and final) attempt to put together a MtG rpg, nor that it was just as doomed as all the rest.  Someone over in Card R&D, where the real Powers That Be in R&D were, didn't want an rpg version of Magic to happen, and accordingly it got shot down every time the rest of the department proposed it -- not when it was mooted, mind you, but well-on into the project.*


All water under the bridge (and living in Renton and Kent teaches you a lot about water and bridges). But what stays in my mind, after all these year, is just how much talent was in the room. That, and how it was great fun to be the keeper of the Dominaria globe for a few months. I wonder who has it now.

--John R.
current reading: AN ASTOUNDING ATLAS OF ALTERED STATES by Michael J. Trinklein (just started)

*a similar silent veto applied to our doing any kind of Tolkien game.

"Tolkien In Love"

So, thanks to Andrew F. for the link to this radio drama based on young Ronald Tolkien's courtship of Edith Bratt. Have to confess I haven't made it all the way through it myself; it's well-done but for some reason off-putting.

Here's the link:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b091s20g

Apparently it'll still be available on the radio BBC's site to listen to for about another week.

--John R
current reading: "The Highwayman" (1908) and THE CASTLE OF CROSSED DESTINIES by Italo Calvino (1969+197; tr 1976-77)


Wednesday, September 6, 2017

The Sky is White today

So, the night before last I was quite startled when I went to check on the moon (which I do most nights, when I can manage it) and saw that it was an orangey-red in color, more the tone you get with a partial lunar eclipse than the rising of a harvest moon.

Then yesterday morning the sun was odd too: distinctly red, and casting red sunbeams early in the day. By mid-morning we were getting yellow sunbeams out of a white sky. Over in Des Moines (the Seattle suburb, not the city in Iowa) the sun looked more like the design on the New Mexico flag, except a-symetrical.

Last night came a dim red moon, not visible at all early in the evening, but I think even redder in color.

All this is side-effect of the out-of-control wildfires burning elsewhere in the state, one of which actually jumped the Columbia River Gorge (quite a feat in itself). Every level surface has tiny flakes of ash scattered here and there; the amount of smoke particles in the air was enough to cool down the temperature a little yesterday, which was supposed to have hit the record for hottest day of the year, had the smoke in the air not mitigated it. Reminded me of the definite temperature drop at the time of the eclipse two weeks ago.

It's at times like this that I really begin to understand how the major meteor strike that set off the dinosaur extinction or the effects of a really major Krakatoa-level volcano eruption can produce effects so far away from the actual site of the event.

Here are two pictures, curtesy of Janice: first Monday night's moon and then Tuesday's sun.
















--John R.
current reading: "Where the Tides Ebb and Flow" (1910)

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Callooh, Callay

So, all the files for A WILDERNESS OF DRAGONS are now in the publisher's hands. Between now and the book's release date I'll make posts here from time to time to keep folks updated on how things are going.

Meanwhile, here's a slightly earlier version of the Table of Contents, from the flyer distributed at Kalamazoo and Mythcon this summer: all the contents are the same as the final one that'll be appearing in the book but their ordering has been slightly rearranged and some of the essay titles have altered slightly.

Here's the link:

http://gabbrohead.com/a-wilderness-of-dragons

--John R.
current reading: "The Hoard of the Gibbelins" (1912)

Monday, September 4, 2017

Oh, Frabjous Day

So, today I made my first turnover on A WILDERNESS OF DRAGONS. The first quarter of the book is now in the publisher's hands. Further developments to be posted as they occur.

--John R.
--not yet doing The Dance of Doneness but starting to warm up.

current reading: THE FIRST EMPEROR (coffeetable-size catalogue from the exhibition of Terracotta Warriors I saw in the British Museum in 2007 and then again here at the Seattle Center two weeks ago tomorrow. Interesting but unwieldy.
also, BREAKING CAT NEWS: THE BOOK by Georgia Dunn