Saturday, October 29, 2011

Adventures on Strange Worlds

Strange Worlds
Jeff Doten, ed. and illus.
189 p., $27

I grew up reading classic science fiction and science fantasy from the 1930s and 1940s, and the sword and planet story has a special place in my heart.  It's a genre we don't see very often any more, but hopefully that is changing.  If nothing else, the release of John Carter next year should cause a brief resurgence in the genre. 

But if you can't wait that long, there's a new anthology out to help whet your appetite. 

Artist Jeff Doten provided paintings to a number of writers and had them pitch story ideas.  He then provided interior illustrations for their stories.  As far as I know, this is one of the few, if not the only, illustrated sword and planet anthologies.  Each story has a color illustration as its frontispiece, designed to look like a vintage paperback, something I thought was a nice touch.  The whole tone of the book was nostalgic and took me back to some of the stories I read growing up.

Here's what you get:  Charles A. Gramlich leads off with "God's Dream", the tale of a young boy orphaned and kidnapped on an alien world who has to earn his place among an alien tribe before he can come home.  This one had an unexpected twist, and there was enough backstory hinted at for other tales on this world.  In "When the World Changed" by Ken St. Andre, a pair of aliens rescue some human explorers and discover that nothing will ever be the same again.  Jennifer Rahn's "Metal Rat and the Brand New Jungle" tells the tale of a soldier in a war on a colony world in a military-sf-meets-sword-and-planet tale.  Terran explorers hire an alien guide with political troubles to help them search for Paul R. McNamee's "Pearls of Uraton."  Another story that could justify more tales in this world.  Liz Coley tells of the descendents of the survivors of a crash and "The Final Gift" one of them receives.  In "The Beasts of the Abyss", Lisa V. Tomecek shows us a far future solar system in which Earth is a dead planet and the other planets and moons have been inhabited long enough to have their on ethnic groups.  This one reminded me of Leigh Brackett's solar system with echoes of C. L. Moore's "Shambleau" in the opening scene.  Adrian Kleinbergen doesn't so much give us a sword and planet tale as a mad scientist in "The Specimen".  Charles R. Rutledge returns to the sword and planet roots with "Slavers of Trakor".  Rounding out the volume, editor Jeff Doten gives us a comic book tale, a la Planet Comics, with "Martian Abductations."

There were a number of things I liked about this anthology, and a couple I didn't.  First, the negative, just to get it out of the way.  There were a couple of places where the level of the writing would have fit into the old pulps quite well, meaning it was a little rough.  Some of that may be personal taste, and some of that may be due to some of the authors still learning their craft.  For the most part, it wasn't a major problem for me except for a couple of what were either typos or major grammar errors, I'm not sure which.  These threw me out of the story.

Also, this book is POD.  I ordered the book as soon as I heard about it, and I think it was one of the first ordered. Anyway, the printer had a glitch in the process.  Most of page 118 in my copy was blank.  The text ended in a complete sentence, and the text on the top of the next page began in the middle of a sentence.  I suspect an illustration got left off with the following text.  Hopefully this has been fixed.

Now for the positive things.  I loved the concept and hope there will be more, either a series of Strange Worlds anthologies or other illustrated anthologies of a similar theme.  The sword and planet tale is one that has sadly fallen into neglect as scientific progress has changed our view of the solar system.  Based on comments I've seen on other blogs and web pages, I suspect there's a market for this type of thing out there.  It may be a niche market, but it's still a market.

I was only familiar with a few of the authors, and some of them only by name.  I have no idea how Mr. Doten selected his authors, but I'm glad he's giving some newcomers (or at least authors I'm not familiar with) an opportunity to be published.  In spite of my remarks above, there is some good writing in here.  The authors created some interesting worlds and scenarios.  If some of it seemed a bit familiar at times, that was fine with me.  Not everything needs to be new and cutting edge.  Comfort reading, like comfort food, is a necessity.  If I truly wanted to read something different every time I picked up a book, I'd never read more than once or twice in the same genre.  And that would suck.  There are only so many stories by Burroughs or Brackett or Hamilton.  When I've read all of their works (I haven't but I'm making progress), then I want something similar when I'm in the mood for that type of thing.  The same holds true in detective fiction, or historical adventure, or any other genre.  We return to the types of writings we do because we enjoy them.  And that's what I did with this one.  Returned to a genre I love and enjoyed the experience.

One final kudo to Jeff Doten.  He ends the book with two and a half pages of suggested reading.  I hate to admit there were one or two names I didn't recognize among some of my favorites.  It seems I have more reading to do.  And that's a good thing. 

Afterthought: I've been planning on participating in NaNoWriMo this year, but until I started reading this anthology, I didn't have a novel length story in mind.  I've come up with a sword and planet idea.  Of course being a physicist by training, it's going to have hard science elements in it.  I'll write more about it in another post in a day or two, but if I'm successful, or even if I'm not, it should be an interesting experiment in sub-genre cross-pollination.


  1. Keith, thanks for giving the book a read. I really enjoyed working on my story for the project. Like you, I'm a big Sword & Planet fan, and lament the lack of solid reading out there in the genre. My three Talera books are definitely Sword & planet and I don't think I've had as much fun writing anything else I've done.

  2. Charles, I'll check out the Talera books. I haven't read a great deal of your work yet, but what I have read, I've always enjoyed.

  3. Thanks for reading our anthology. Mine was the story that got glitched in the middle (as you imagined--a dropped illustration). Jeff assures me that it has been fixed.

  4. You're welcome, Liz. I enjoyed your story as well as the rest of the book. I thought the sibling conflict between Tarn and Doli added depth to the story. Jeff was kind enough to send me the missing page.

  5. Thanks, Keith! Sorry you had a POD glitch. I know Jeff has worked hard on constantly getting proofs throughout the process, etc.

    This was a really fun project and I also hope there will be more. (both as a writer & reader!)

  6. You're welcome, Paul. There are always little things that go wrong, but fortunately this was one that's easy to fix. The book was a fun read, and I can only imagine how much fun it must have been to work on.

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