"I'm off smokes," said John Carter of Mars.
"There's too much nicotine in cigars,"
But a large nearby Thark
Was observed to remark:
"No, he's just getting damned sick of Tars."
-- Randall Garrett
(Asimov's Science Fiction, Sep-Oct 1978)
(pic courtesy of goldenagecomicbookstories.blogspot.com)
Of all of the ERB pastiches that appeared in the 1970's by far the most elaborate and sustained was UK author Kenneth Bulmer's Dray Prescot series (written as Alan Burt Akers and Dray Prescot). Beginning with Transit to Scorpio (1972) and continuing for a remarkable 52 volumes the series centers around Dray Prescot, an 18th century jacktar and resident John Carter surrogate. He finds himself mysteriously transported to the exotic planet Kregan (à la that other Carter echo, Adam Strange), where he finds swashbuckling adventure and wins the love of Delia, princess of the island empire of Vallia.
At first blush the series appears to be a somewhat ironic take on the ERB oeuvre. One of the first places the readers visit is the "swinging city" where the houses hang on cords and literally swing back and forth. Also, Bulmer seems determined to confound the reader's expectations as fight scenes promising lots of violent action suddenly come to a dead stop as the protagonist is whisked to a different time and place. There's a distinct sense that he's deliberately subverting the bloodthirsty aspects of the genre. Yet as the series went on and Bulmer kept adding to it year after year it became clear he was doing more in these tales than poking at ERB. He was involved in sculpting an elaborate fantasy edifice.
One interesting aspect of the series is its connections with gaming. I have no idea whether or not Bulmer himself was a gamer, but he was clearly sympathetic to the hobby. The novel Mazes of Scorpio (1982) involves delving in a trap and monster filled maze and reads like a tribute to D&D. Then in 1986 Mayfair games published Beneath Two Suns, an "authorized and approved" AD&D module allowing players to adventure on Kregan. On top of that Wargames Research Group's fantasy miniature wargame Hordes of the Things included extensive army lists for the various factions of Kregan.
Despite its evident popularity the series was dropped by DAW in the late 1980's. Tastes had changed and readers were less interested in florid planetary romance than in gritty cyberpunk. Although Bulmer continued to extend the series his later books were only published in German translations. Only recently has Mushroom eBooks made these later volumes available to English readers. In spite of its derivative origins Bulmer's Dray Prescot series is one of the great achievements in sf worldbuilding. Like Mike Grell's Warlord comic that I discussed the other day it is a tribute to Bulmer's lively imagination. It remains an underrated classic of its type.
Update: I changed the pics. They all come from Gilian, Sister of the Rose's fan site (gilians.de/kregen/)
We lost another master worldbuilder recently. M. A. R. Barker, the creator of the science fantasy world of Tékumel has passed away.
Empire of the Petal Throne (1975) was not only one of the earliest FRPGs, it was one of the first to situate the action in a cultural context. Players were presented with an astonishingly detailed world in which to adventure. It was also one of the few games to find its way into fiction. In the 1980's DAW books published two of Barker's Tékumel novels, The Man of Gold (1984) and Flamesong (1985), and more recently three more of his were printed.
M. A. R. Barker was one of the most singular imaginations of his age and will be remembered fondly by fans for the rich tapestry that he wove.
DEX 3D+2, KNO 4D, MEC 3D, PER 3D, STR 3D+1, TEC 3D
Blaster (Blaster Pistol) 6D+2; Brawling Parry 5D+2; Dodge 6D+2; Planetary Systems (Rann) 6D; Scholar (Archaeology) 6D; Scholar (History) 5D; Scholar (Anthropology) 5D; Scholar (Zeta Beam) 6D; Survival 5D; Tactics 5D; Repulsorlift Operation 4D; Rocket Pack Operation (Ranagarian Rocket Pack) 6D; Space Transports 5D; Brawling 5D+1; Stamina 4D+1
Space Suit (+1D armor versus physical and energy attacks; holds 10 hours of atmosphere); Blaster Pistol (4D, Range: 3-10/30/120); Ranagarian Rocket Pack (can carry 150 kg and fly at 300 kph)
Strange is an archeologist suddenly teleported from Peru, Earth to the planet Rann via the "Zeta Beam". Called on to protect the planet from extraterrestrial threats using high-tech weaponry, Strange has grown to care for the planet and its inhabitants, especially the blue-haired Alanna and her father Sardath, whose experiments were responsible for the ray that had brought him there. The effects of the beam are temporary, automatically returning Strange to Earth at the exact point of departure. However, Sardath has given him a schedule of beam firings allowing him to periodically return to the planet. Independently wealthy, he travels Earth, intercepting the scheduled Zeta Beams to defend Rann and be with Alanna.
(Created by writer Gardner Fox and artist Mike Sekowsky; first appeared in Showcase #17, November 1958)
Gahaak was mortified to have the puny humans see him in such undignified circumstances.
(pic via goldenagecomicbookstories.blogspot.com)
I have a conspiracy theory. Did you ever wonder why so many movies and TV shows are filled with guns? Why nearly every TV show is a cop drama and almost every action movie is a gun bunny's dream come true? Here's where my conspiracy theory comes in. The studio executives and producers behind these shows all own shares of stock in the gun companies. They green light show that will need to purchase a ton of guns, the profits of the gun companies go up and so does the value of their shares. Diabolical, isn't it?
That's why this recent Reuters report by Greg McCune doesn't surprise me.
In other words, Romero films and shows like The Walking Dead are basically extended gun commercials. It's probably only a matter of time before we see Official Walking Dead (TM) Target Dummies. How crazy does my conspiracy theory sound now?
I guess that's one thing you've got to hand to high fantasy shows like George R. R. Martin's Game of Thrones. It'll never annoy viewers with product placement and it definitely will never turn into a gun commercial.
After being bitten by a rabid Bat-Boy, milksop social worker Mark Lilly becomes the masked crimefighter, Bat Person, and wages war against New York's criminals with the help of his loyal sidekick, Koala Man (Doug). He is slowly transforming into a full-blown Bat-Boy.
Body: 4 Mind: 4 Soul: 5
Damn Healthy! Level 2 (2 points), Heightened Senses Level 3 (Hearing x2, Vision, can see in the dark) (3 points), Servant Level 3 (Koala Man) (3 points), Personal Gear Level 1 (Utility belt) (1 point), Special Attack Level 2 "Bat shriek" (30 damage, Area Effect (10 meter radius), Drain Soul (2 points of Soul drained), No Damage, Short Range) (8 points)
Marked (Bat-Boy features, 1 BP), Nemesis (Sabrina Maroney, 1 BP), Significant Other (Callie Maggotbone, 1 BP), Skeleton in the Closet (Secret identity, 1 BP), Physically Unappealing (1 BP)
Attack Combat Value: 4
Defense Combat Value: 2
Health Points: 65
Energy Points: 45
Shock Value: 13
Note: Anyone attacked by the "Bat shriek" must make a Soul save at -2 or flee the scene.
Koala Man (Irreplaceable Servant)
Doug, a timid giant koala, has been teamed with Bat Person by Grimes, the sadistic head of the DOI who hates vigilantes, in order to keep tabs on him. Unbeknownst to anyone, Doug has a secret, shameful past as a professional assassin. He does most of the duo's fighting.
Body: 5 Mind: 4 Soul: 3
Combat Mastery Level 4 (8 points), Damn Healthy! Level 1 (1 point), Gun Bunny Level 1 (Two Guns) (1 point)
Marked (Giant koala features, 2 BP), Recurring Nightmares (1 BP), Skeleton in the Closet (Ex-assassin, 2 BP), Cannot Talk (1 BP), Owned by a Megacorp (DOI, 1 BP)
Attack Combat Value: 8
Defense Combat Value: 6
Health Points: 50
Energy Points: 35
Shock Value: 10
Notes: Write-ups for BESM (Rev. 2nd ed.). Optional skill rules not used. Bat Person & Koala Man are from the fantastic TV show, Ugly Americans, season 2, episode 16, "The Dork Knight". Bat-Boy comes to us from the pages of Weekly World News, "The World's Only Reliable News!" (weeklyworldnews.com/)
Update: Dropped Doug's Soul stat by one point to reflect his timidity and gave him the Damn Healthy! att. since he always takes so much abuse.