Friday, June 6, 2008

Mo(o)re Northwest Smith

I've been greatly enjoying Northwest of Earth from Paizo's Planet Stories line of reprints. I'd never read these pulp science fiction tales before, so it's a real treat. Despite the years, they hold up remarkably well. Yes, the science is completely fanciful and would almost certainly have been fanciful even at the time they were written, but that doesn't adversely affect the fiction at all. In some ways, I think it works to the advantage of the stories. When you read them, you won't get caught up in technobabble and speculation and can just focus on the characters and situations, both of which are extremely well done and engaging.

Last night, before before bed, I was reading the story "Dust of the Gods," in which Northwest Smith finds himself, once again, out of work, out of money, and almost out of booze. So he and his faithful friend, the Venusian Yarol, consider hiring themselves out a wild-eyed little Earthman whose employment has already scared off several toughs. After listening to the madman's tale, the two companions confer with one another.
"Did you believe that yarn?"

"Don't know -- I've come across some pretty funny things here and there. He does act half-cracked, of course, but -- well, those fellows back there certainly found something out of the ordinary, and they didn't go all the way at that."

"Well, if he'll buy us a drink I say let's take the job," said Yarol. "I'd as soon be scared to death later as die of thirst now. What do you say?"

"Good enough," shrugged Smith. "I'm thirsty too."
With dialog like that, it's hard not to enjoy these stories. They take place in a setting that reminds me a bit of Space: 1889 except with "modern" rather than Victorian trappings. All the worlds of the solar system boast intelligent species and Earthmen have entered a dark universe whose true history they do not understand. Lurking in the background there are secrets and mysteries and things Man was not meant to know. Into this strides Northwest Smith, a latter day gunslinger, with his scarred face and no-color eyes. These stories are a terrific blend of science fiction, horror, Westerns, and the weird tale. They're great fun and it's hard not to be inspired by them.

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