Video: Okanagan Library Summer Reading Challenge Update August 20 #ORL

Update on my Vernon Library Summer Reading Challenge and my Worlds Without End reading challenges, including a short review of “Earth Abides” by George R. Stewart and of “The Mauritius Command” by Patrick O’Brian. Also, what to expect in the next couple of weeks and the rest of my reading list for the challenge!

Source: Video: Okanagan Library Summer Reading Challenge Update August 20 #ORL

Book Review: A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs

A Princess of Mars (Barsoom, #1)A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Edgar Rice Burroughs, the writer who gave us Tarzan, published this novel first as a magazine serial and then released it as a completed novel later on. It’s always an interesting experience to read classic sci-fi, especially when it’s this classic. This pulp legend is loaded with so many tropes it might make the modern reader toss it aside in disgust; except that none of these were tropes when this book was written. And why are they tropes? Because they were amazingly successful and popular, and thousands of writers who succeeded Burroughs tried to imitate what made the John Carter books what they were. These, along with C.S. Lewis’ Space Trilogy, were the primordial space operas.

John Carter, ex-civil war soldier and Southern gentleman, is mystically transported to the planet Mars in a fashion that feels more like fantasy than science fiction to the modern reader, except that almost everything that happens after that is sci-fi to the core. John Carter finds that as a denizen of Earth he is considerably stronger and can leap incredible distances compared to the native Martians, who are adapted to Mars’ lesser gravity; which, of course, would be exactly what would happen by all laws of physics and biology, if Mars were actually inhabited (though this is also ignored in some places; for instance, Martian riding beasts have no trouble carrying John Carter, although he is certainly more dense, and therefore much heavier, than the people of Mars, which is called “Barsoom” by its inhabitants.)

Carter initially finds himself among the savage green men, who are twelve to sixteen foot tall green, four-armed aliens with great tusks like orcs; where he, through a strange combination of coincidences and misunderstanding of social custom, finds himself both a prisoner and a chieftain; and he teaches the green men about friendship, loyalty and benevolence, which are qualities they have forgotten because limited resources on the dying world of Mars have demanded a more savage way of life of its denizens. Then he ends up meeting the more human-like, more technologically and culturally advanced (but smaller and weaker) red men of Mars, where he meets the princess who motivates him to acts of heroism that read like mythology; which of course also make the John Carter books the primordial planetary romance.

As a modern reader I found that I was impressed by much of the implied technology, which included but was not limited to anti-gravity vehicles, terraforming, and the rudiments of nuclear power and plasma weaponry (described as being powered by radium or something similar.)

Aside from the fact that this standard story formula has become the essence of the default science fiction plotline and setting (clearly guiding, among other things, the standard plots of the original Star Trek series,) I can see so many direct influences in many other ways. The Gor novels are essentially Barsoom updated, kinkified and taken to the extreme; the Dark Sun novels borrow the “savage world of limited resources” setting whole-hock, and I think we even get the fact that Mork hatched from an egg from this novel, since the people of Barsoom are born thus. We even get our scantily-clad heroes and heroines from Burroughs’ work; the Martians wear jewelry and combat harness, but not clothing.

There is much to irritate the modern reader if you allow it to. Racism and sexism is rampant, as is the hypocritical logic of Colonialism, and as I’ve said, it’s full of what have become tropes. The writing of the time is prone to contrived plot conveniences and dei ex machinae. There’s a lot of telling and not showing, which of course is considered bad writing by modern convention. And yet it’s a damn good read that keeps you pressing on to the very last page. It took me only a day to burn through it even though I don’t have as much time to read as I would like on working days.

Refreshing, however, to the modern reader, is the fact that despite his Colonialism, John Carter is a man who tries always to do the right thing as he sees it at the time, and in this age of dystopias and anti-heroes, this is like a breath of fresh air. And the style is an easy read that is appropriate for everyone from teens to octogenarians and up.

Everyone who considers themselves a sci-fi or fantasy fan should read this book, whose influence is clearly underrated. Despite, or perhaps especially because of, the tropes.

View all my reviews

Video

Symphonies of the Planets

Although space is a virtual vacuum, this does not mean that there is no sound in space.  Sound does exist as electromagnetic vibrations.

Through specially designed instruments, the Voyager, INJUN 1, ISEE 1, and HAWKEYE space probes used Plasma Wave antenna to record the vibrations of the planets that they visited that are within the range of human hearing (20 to 20,000 Hz).

To be fair, however, they are often quiet; quiet enough that they are difficult, if not impossible, for the human ear to hear.

The recorded sounds are the complex interactions of charged electromagnetic particles from the Solar Wind, ionospheres, and planetary magnetospheres.  Here’s a sample of some of the recordings released by NASA:

Here is a recording (and photos) of the noise of the Singing Comet, 67P, as recorded by the Rosetta spacecraft (though in this case the volume has been increased by 10,000 times):

And here is a full playlist of the Symphony of the Planets.  These five CDs, which are now out of print, were created from the complex sounds recorded by the Voyager probes.

Yes, really.  This is real world stuff I’m talking about, not just Arcane Space!

So if you’d like to imagine what it sounds like aboard a Spelljamming ship, picture that the closer you got to a planetary body, the more of this kind of sound you would hear.  It would start as faint, water-like popping noises.  Then you would wonder when the wind noise had started.  Then you might notice a high-pitched drone like a wet finger on crystal or a Tibetan singing bowl.  In some cases (Suns, large planetary bodies) you might notice a low droning buzz, like the sound of a WWII airplane.  The closer you got to the planetary body, the louder it would get, and when you reached a planetary gravity plane, it would be a veritable cacophony to ears accustomed only to the creak of the ship, the flap of sails and the quiet of the Void; which would fade again into the background once you hit atmosphere and terrestrial noises began to reach your ears.  Or you might be sailing along in space, likely with continual distant popping sounds that would be more rapid the closer you were to the center of the sphere, and all of a sudden a Solar Gale might whip wind and ringing and high-pitched drones through the air envelope.  In which case, a sargasso might be heralded by a sudden, deafening silence.

 

SJA3 Crystal Spheres at DriveThruRPG!

Traveling the space lanes is risky and mysterious, and danger comes in many forms. The rescue of a tiny ship from pirate attackers leads to the discovery of a monumental, supernatural evil. Nothing is ever routine in space.

Crystal Spheres takes player characters through four unique crystal spheres to battle a powerful force of darkness. Player Characters will find themselves fighting not just for their lives, but the fate of an entire solar system and its millions of inhabitants.

“Crystal Spheres” is an adventure for the AD&D Spelljammer campaign setting. The Spelljammer boxed set is required to play. This 64-page adventure will easily adapt to any campaign world.

*****

Product History

SJA3: “Crystal Spheres” (1990), by J. Paul LaFountain, is the third Spelljammer adventure. It was released in October 1990.

Continuing the “SJA” Series. “Crystal Spheres” continues the Spelljammer adventures. It’s an epic adventure, as was found in SJA1: “Wildspace” (1990): a sphere’s sun is on the verge of being snuffed out, and the players must save it.

Adventuring Tropes. “Crystal Spheres” lies on the line between the adventuring tropes of the ’80s and ’90s. It contains lots of random encounters and mapped locations. However, it also features events that drive players along a path to confront the problems of the underlying storyline.

Expanding Wildspace. True to its name, “Crystal Spheres” does a great job of providing good reasons to adventure across Wildspace from one sphere to another. Along the way it details four new crystal spheres: Herospace (which is for heroic adventures only, with 9 planets divided by alignment); Faeriespace (which is one gigantic community); Greatspace (which is an elder sphere focused on nobility and honor); and Darkspace (which is a sunless, shadowy void).

Unfortunately, one of the problems with Spelljammer was that it never brought together its many spheres into a coherent setting. The Spelljammerboxed set (1989) focused on the Radiant Triangle of Greyhawk, Krynn, and the Realms, but then the six Spelljammer adventures barely touched on those areas. Similarly, the worlds of Darkspace, Faeriespace, Greatspace, and Herospace would never be heard from again.

(Though TSR never created a larger Spelljammer setting, some fans have taken the next step, compiling all the spheres of Wildspace into a cohesive whole.)

“Crystal Spheres” also includes a beautiful chart comparing the sizes of the many spelljamming vessels revealed to date — including the Hummingbird from this very adventure.

About the Creators. LaFountain did a scattering of TSR work in the early ’90s. This was his premiere freelance work; he’d later contribute to MC8: “Monstrous Compendium Outer Planes Appendix” (1991), SJR3: “Dungeon Master’s Screen” (1991), and some supplements for the Buck Rogers XXVC RPG.

About the Product Historian

The history of this product was researched and written by Shannon Appelcline, the editor-in-chief of RPGnet and the author of Designers & Dragons – a history of the roleplaying industry told one company at a time. Please feel free to mail corrections, comments, and additions to shannon.appelcline@gmail.com.

Ideas for Adapting Spelljammer for 5th Edition

Here’s a really neat way of making Spelljamming work for 5th Edition, combining elements of classic Spelljammer, Shadow of the Spider Moon, and Dragonstar.  Sounds great!  Thanks, Cosmonomicon!