Monday, December 1, 2008

Pulp Fantasy Gallery: Giant of World's End


First published in 1969, Giant of World's End kicks off a series of books describing the adventures of Ganelon Silvermane, an artificially created hero awakened prematurely to save the far future world of Gondwane -- Earth after all the continents have again positioned themselves into a super-mass -- from a variety of threats. These books clearly belong to the "Dying Earth" sub-genre and the influence of Vance is quite clear, which perhaps explains their appeal to Gary Gygax. Though published first, Giant of World's End takes place last in the series and there are some incongruities between its depiction of Ganelon and Gondwane and those of the later books. Still, it's an interesting read and another example of a type of fantasy that was once commonplace and now a curiosity.

I feel compelled, as an aside, to speak briefly about Lin Carter, who frequently catches a lot of flak because of his involvement in posthumous "collaborations" with pulp authors, most notably Robert E. Howard. For these, I do think he deserves criticism and fairly harsh criticism at that. Like August Derleth before him, these efforts of Carter are almost universally amateurish and of limited literary merit. Along with L. Sprague De Camp, Carter did much violence to the Conan saga and many readers of a certain age have a distorted view of the Cimmerian's adventures -- and REH's writing -- because of his work. At the same time, Carter was the driving force behind much of the pulp revival of the late 60s and early 70s, when he promoted numerous formerly-forgotten writers to the general public once more. He was the first editor of Ballantine Books' "Adult Fantsy" series and it was this series that brought authors like Lord Dunsany, Clark Ashton Smith, William Morris, James Branch Cabell, and many others to view again. In a sense, he was a spiritual godfather of Dungeons & Dragons, because Carter's editorial work enabled many to read fantasy tales they otherwise wouldn't have, many of which were very influential on Gary Gygax. Consequently, for all his faults, I still retain a fondness for Lin Carter that I don't for De Camp.

41 comments:

  1. I actually enjoy much of Carter's own writings, pastiches though most are, such as World's End, Jandar, Green Star, etc.

    And I think not only is his work keeping pulp fantasy, especially S&S, alive but I think it mitigates somewhat his violence on REH. Whereas with De Camp it is hard to believe his goal was anything beyond self-aggrandizement by attaching himself to Howard Carter's clear love of fantasy and his efforts to keep it alive and spread it allow me to think his "collaborations" are as much fannish as aggrandizing. While the results may be as bad it's harder to see malice in them.

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  2. Herb,

    I agree strongly. Carter comes across as being a big fan boy who let his enthusiasm get the better of his judgment (perhaps egged on by De Camp?) and it's hard to get angry at him, even if one thinks the end results are terrible (which I do). De Camp, on the other hand, strikes me as someone who took pleasure in knocking down the reputations of his betters in order to promote himself. It's a pity because De Camp was actually talented in his own right.

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  3. I'm not convinced Lord Dunsany needed any rescuing from obscurity in the 60s, although Carter may have brought him to a new audience. Yeats' imprimatur still carried some weight back then.

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  4. I'm no Dunsany scholar, but I'd be amazed to learn that his work had much of a readership, much less popularity, outside of academia in the 1960s. He's an important figure in the development of literary fantasy, but I'd be amazed if he were widely read after the 1930s. I'd wager that what contemporary popularity he does possess -- a relative term, to be sure -- owes to two sources: Carter's Adult Fantasy series and Lovecraft's acknowledgment of Dunsany as a literary inspiration for his Dreamlands tales.

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  5. Wow. I'll agree 110% with your post. Carter did something of a hack job with the REH pastiche work (his Cormac Mac Art novels are particularly bad), but I think it came "from the heart" as it were - a big fan trying to continue the work of REH's tragically short career.

    I actually much, much prefer Carter's original works. Thongor, while derivative, is a lot of fun in my mind, and the Ganelon Silvermane series is also a lot of fun. It's all a bit "fannish", but in the end I put it there with Gardner F. Fox and the other "post-modern pulp" crowd who started writing in the late 60's and early 70's, writing the sort of fiction they liked to read in the 30's as children.

    Gonna have to find "Giant" and pick myself up a copy. I've got "Warrior" and two or three others.

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  6. I just ordered "Warrior" yesterday in a pile of other books. I can almost always find something awesome to plunder from those series that are less well-known to modern gamers.

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  7. While I agree that the Carter and de Camp Conan pastiches are horrific, de Camp still gets a pass from me based on his own fiction (with and without Fletcher Pratt), and for some of his non-fiction books like Great Cities of the Ancient World, The Ancient Engineers, Ancient Ruins and Archaeology and, in general, his collaborations with his wife, Catherine Cook de Camp. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/L._Sprague_de_Camp#Nonfiction_2 for further info, if you're interested.

    Allan.

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  8. From people I know in the SF&F publishing industry, the Ballantine Adult Fantasy series had a profound effect on bringing old work back to light, especially as inspiration and grounding for later fantasy writers. So Lin Carter deserves a fair bit of credit for serving as editor of that series.

    I'm very puzzled by the antipathy to Sprague de Camp, however. Fletcher Pratt and de Camp were responsible for the The Complete Enchanter series, which had their own effect on D&D. If anything, rather than being mad at de Camp and Carter, I would suggest holding your anger for the publishers of the Conan reprints, who probably wanted as much material as possible, and thus encouraged de Camp and others to posthumously "collaborate" with Howard. Again, if you credit the idea the Carter brought back a lot of old fantasy into popular view, de Camp and Carter did much the same with the Conan stories - even if adulterated. Where would people have seen them before that? Back issues of Weird Tales? It's hard for people now to remember that back in the 1960's, science fiction and fantasy were not the mainstays of the publishing field they are today. Keeping things in print continuously was almost impossible, as publishers regarded their SF&F lines as little better than the pulp magazines that preceded them. This isn't an apologia for de Camp, per se - I'm suggesting that the context for understanding what happened is a lot larger than anything Sprague de Camp was thinking on his own.

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  9. I've got Ancient Engineers. Very cool book and something every GM should have on his or her shelf for those times when you want to build something plausible yet cool without your players giving you crap about how "no bunch of medieval peasants could possibly build that".

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  10. My antipathy for De Camp stems from the hatchet jobs he did to the memories of men like Lovecraft and Howard, whom he pop psychologized into bitter, neurosis-ridden caricatures of the complex people they were. I have a fondness for many of his works and I admire him for the efforts he made toward acquiring primary sources of use to later Howard scholarship, but that doesn't excuse his having perpetuated -- and in some cases originated -- lots of misinformation and outright scurrilous lies about HPL and REH. We're only now starting to banish them from serious consideration and for that I will always give De Camp a big black mark in my book.

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  11. Thank you, vraymond. I personally am heartily sick of the anger towards de Camp - fact is, if it hadn't been for him and his evil intentions (and I think you're wrong to speculate about what those intentions were, by the way; The Compleat Enchanter reveals a nascent interest in fantasy even before he started wringing his moustache etc. etc. over REH), pretty much NONE of us - that includes you old fogies too - would have heard of REH or HPL. Without the phenomenal success of his paperbacks, would any serious publisher these days be promoting Conan et. al. as fiercely as Gollancz and Del Rey are doing now? The Fantasy Masterworks series has already been cut down to the most popular stuff - and Elric, Lankhmar, and Conan, along with ol' Poul, are the only pulp fantasy series left over. Where's the aforementioned Compleat Enchanter these days, eh?
    For those who reckon that people like Glenn Lord and Karl Edward Wagner would have ridden in and saved the day, well, realistically, you must admit that the fan press had really very little to do with the exposure REH now enjoys. You can argue til your face is blue that Conan's popularity ruined the character or whatever, but boo hoo. You'll get no sympathy from me, old man, because if de Camp hadn't ruined REH for everyone, I never ever would have been able to read his stuff (expurgated or otherwise). And I wouldn't have been able to force my friends to do so either.

    In conclusion, de Camp's positive contribution to S&S far outweighs whatever else he did, and if REH has a legacy, de Camp's the one who helped most to preserve it. You should all be grateful.

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  12. I don't believe anyone here has denied De Camp's genuine contributions to pulp fantasy, both as a writer and as a promoter of earlier authors. He was truly a colossus of the genre -- but he was a colossus with clay feet, whose own quirks and prejudices wrought great harm on the posthumous reputations of HPL and REH, even as he was simultaneously making their works accessible to a new generation.

    Does this mean I see De Camp as a villain? Hardly. Like HPL and REH -- like all human beings -- he was full of contradictions and nuances, as well as more than a few character defects, not least of which was self-aggrandizement, often at the expense of his predecessors in the field. I don't think pointing out De Camp's flaws is the same as portraying him as Simon Legree, but then I also don't think that, because Howard was fond of his mother, that he was suffering from an Oedipus Complex either.

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  13. Immortal of World's End was one of the very first fantasy books I ever read (one of three and I can't remember which came first really so it might have been the actual first. I retain a fondness for Carter still, although rereading him as an adult, it's pretty clear when he gets bored with a series,the quality declines precipitously.

    I have a particular fondness for the Gondwane books, particularly this one, which is less silly than those that follow (Pirates of World's End was rather dreadful).

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  14. I've read this book, and have 3 or 4 others from the series unread on the shelf. Not too good, but marginally better than the other Carter books I've read - a Thongor book, some Conan pastiches, and his story in Flashing Swords #1.

    Carter does get credit for the Ballantine Adult Fantasy series, but I wouldn't attribute too much influence from that series on EGG -- he had already been reading fantasy fiction from at least the 50s (if not earlier), there are only a scant few overlapping titles between his Inspirational Reading list and the BAF series (Dunsany, Lovecraft, The Blue Star, and The Broken Sword), and in his "intro to D&D" article "Swords and Sorcery ... in Wargaming!" (that appeared in Wargamer's Digest, IIRC, in 1974, but achieved wider exposure when reprinted in Dungeon #112) he praises the increased interest in fantasy and s&s, and cites Carter's series, but laments finding most of the titles in it "boring" (or words to that effect).

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  15. Incidentally, James, I don't think it's ever come up because your pulp focus is always on Fantasy, but how do you feel about Asimov?

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  16. James - would you be able to point out the "hachet job" that de Camp (allegedly) performed on Lovecraft and Howard's reputations? I'm not doubting you, I'm just unfamiliar with this stuff and would like to be up to speed on it. (Post it here or via email, if you would - thank you!)

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  17. Victor,

    I don't have a copy of Dark Valley Destiny handy, so I can't cite chapter and verse to you. However, I will say that, through that biography, De Camp is one of the chief purveyors of the "Howard killed himself because of his mother's impending death" camp, a view that's been rather thoroughly dismissed by serious REH scholars. Likewise, De Camp implies that Howard was bullied and teased and that his subsequent "macho" image, both in life and in writing, was a consequence of this supposed childhood trauma -- for which we have no evidence whatsoever. De Camp repeatedly damned Howard with faint praise, implying that, despite all his personal foibles and the weakness of his writing, he could still tell a good yarn. Consequently, it's taken much longer for literary scholars to look at Howard as more than a hack pulp writer who got lucky.

    De Camp repeats the same process in his biography of Lovecraft, which I do have handy. It's full of innuendo, amateur psychologizing, and outright lies, such as the notion that HPL carried with him a bottle of poison that he often considered taking in order to free himself from the drudgery of existence. His over-emphasis on HPL's racism, as if it were the only thing -- aside from a hatred of life itself -- that drove the man to write the stories he did is another example of the way De Camp regularly failed to appreciate nuance in others.

    None of this is meant to suggest De Camp was a black hatted villain, but I bring it up because I think he did do many disservices to REH and HPL and continues to have a lasting impact on popular (and even academic) perceptions of these authors. Many bits of misinformation -- "facts" people think they know about Howard and Lovecraft -- have their origin in De Camp and I think it's not at all unreasonable to call him to the mat for them.

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  18. I'd be very interested to read any reputable REH scholarship that refutes the conclusion that Howard killed himself because he could not bear to live without his mother, if you could provide a couple of citations.

    I don't dispute that de Camp took some liberties in writing the bios of HPL and REH. One cannot read either without detecting a bit of disdain in his tone, but at the same time it is hard to imagine coming to any other conclusion about REH's death. His suicide preceded his mother's death by a matter of hours, so even without direct evidence to that effect it's difficult to believe there is no connection. Of course there is abundant circumstantial evidence that he had "mother issues" (not to indulge too much in pop psych myself)..after all, the man still lived with his parents at age 30, despite being the richest man in town (not saying much, probably).

    I guess my point is that REH clearly was (at least) neurotic, and HPL probably even moreso. de Camp's motives for harping on these aspects of their lives might not have been remotely altruistic, but I don't think we can discount his biographies as simple self-promotion at the expense of his "betters" (a judgment which is at very least debatable). de Camp writes plenty about the positive aspects of REH's and HPL's lives as well. From my reading, the complexities and nuances of both personalities are presented fairly even-handedly. I found it quite refreshing, actually, especially in the HPL bio, that de Camp didn't indulge in the thinly-veiled hero worship one finds in other accounts (paging Mr. Joshi...).

    Anyway, just my 2 cents.

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  19. Carter does get credit for the Ballantine Adult Fantasy series, but I wouldn't attribute too much influence from that series on EGG

    Certainly not, but the series did influence a lot of the earliest players of OD&D, at least the younger ones, thus creating a "seedbed" that was ripe for producing the flowering of the hobby in the mid-70s.

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  20. I love this blog! I love these sorts of entries...what are some of the basic, essential pulp reads which you feel inform D&D? Do you have a top five list? I'm new to this sort of literature.

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  21. An excellent recent biography of REH is Blood and Thunder by Mark Finn, which in my opinion clears up numerous misapprehensions and outright lies about Howard, drawing on not merely primary sources but also a better understanding of the world in which Howard grew up. For example, the notion that there was anything aberrant about an adult man, even a successful one, living with his parents at age 30 is shown for what it is: a misinterpretation of facts based on unfamiliarity with the society of rural Texas in the 1930s. Other post-De Camp biographies/memoirs of interest include Glenn Lord's The Last Celt, One Who Walked Alone by Novalyne Price Ellis, and Post Oaks & Sand Roughs, a semi-autobiographical novel by Howard that gives great insight into his inner life. First published in 1990, it also includes lots of annotations by people who knew Howard. And of course there's The Cimmerian, a journal of Howard studies, that is always insightful.

    In short, there's been an absolute explosion of new scholarship about Howard in the last 30 years and the picture it paints is a better contextualized and supported one than what we got via De Camp and those who followed his lead.

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  22. Rach,

    I love early Asimov, but am not too fond of almost anything he did after about 1969. His early works from the 40s and 50s are almost pure gold, but his later works become, in my opinion, very self-indulgent and trite.

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  23. Dear James - thank you very much for your citations; now I get to go dig them up. :)

    Even without having read them, though, I'm wondering if you are reading too much into de Camp's characterizations of both Howard and Lovecraft. More specifically, are you sure de Camp wrote this stuff maliciously? I'm more inclined to think that he wrote from the limited perspective he must have had, without a lot of direct contact with either subject, and without full information about Lovecraft or Howard's lives. That's just my take without having seen the biographies you've mentioned, and I freely admit I could be wrong.

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  24. Vraymond - here's the litmus test; join a serious REH discussion list or board, and ask that question. I think you'll see that James' opinion of de Camp is not a unique one among serious scholars of REH - actually, I'd say that it's a rather moderate one.

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  25. JM - An excellent recent biography of REH is Blood and Thunder by Mark Finn, which in my opinion clears up numerous misapprehensions and outright lies about Howard, drawing on not merely primary sources but also a better understanding of the world in which Howard grew up. For example, the notion that there was anything aberrant about an adult man, even a successful one, living with his parents at age 30 is shown for what it is: a misinterpretation of facts based on unfamiliarity with the society of rural Texas in the 1930s.

    Cool, thanks. I'll look into these when I get the chance. Just out of curiosity, what is the consensus explanation for his suicide in these sources, if any?

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  26. Just out of curiosity, what is the consensus explanation for his suicide in these sources, if any?

    There's no clear consensus beyond the fact that REH was given to "black moods," which most people nowadays take to mean he was depressive. His suicide was clearly not a spur of the moment thing; he had taken efforts to get his affairs in order, for example. Exactly what finally spurred him to do the deed is uncertain and undoubtedly many factors, including his mother's impending death, played a role. But beyond the fact that Howard was, like his creation, a man of gigantic melancholies, no one can say for certain.

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  27. Fair enough, though I still think it's understandable how de Camp, especially considering the relatively sparse information available at the time, could interpret and present the eccentricities of both HPL and REH in a negative light.

    Certain sources, such as the last volume of HPL's Selected Letters, which revealed a much-liberalized, less racist Gentleman from Providence, were unavailable until well after the publication of LSdC's bio of him. One would hope that REH might have undergone a similar change of heart had he lived longer.

    I guess what I'm saying is that I can't find it in myself to fault de Camp for his characterization of either man. My own negative view of REH is based on the obvious and ugly, unabashed racism, sexism, and simple-mindedness of his fiction, not on a character assassination perpetrated by later someone else. But a greater understanding of the context of such work is always desirable, so I'm open to modifying my view once I look deeper.

    But to respond to the OT of Lin Carter. Ugh...just ugh. A great editor whom we owe a huge debt of gratitude, but IMO most of his other stuff is just fan fiction
    of the worst kind.

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  28. "But to respond to the OT of Lin Carter. Ugh...just ugh. A great editor whom we owe a huge debt of gratitude, but IMO most of his other stuff is just fan fiction of the worst kind."

    Then, my friend, you really haven't been reading a lot of fan fiction. Try The Eye of Argon if you want to see bad fan fiction.

    Yeah, Carter wasn't overly talented. Yeah, he was no great shakes as an author, and would probably never be published today. But if you think his writing is "of the worst kind", you really need to take a look in the gutters of sci-fi/fantasy fanfic and get a little perspective.

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  29. More specifically, are you sure de Camp wrote this stuff maliciously?

    No, I'm not and if I said or implied I was, I gladly retract it. I do, however, believe that De Camp was given to self-aggrandizement at the expense of others, such as his lament, after Lin Carter's death, that he should have chosen Leigh Brackett as a collaborator for his Conan novels, because Brackett was a better writer. He may not have been malicious, but he was certainly callous in the way he treated even his colleagues. The fact that he actually thought Howard a terrible writer whom he only promoted because "that's where the money is" strikes me as a good measure of him as a man.

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  30. Yeah, Carter wasn't overly talented. Yeah, he was no great shakes as an author, and would probably never be published today. But if you think his writing is "of the worst kind", you really need to take a look in the gutters of sci-fi/fantasy fanfic and get a little perspective.

    This is true. Carter's talents were limited as a writer. I have a fondness for his stuff, because it feels like the kind of thing I'd have written in my youthful enthusiastic stage of fandom. I know it's not great stuff and accept that. Still, I'd rather read Lin Carter any day over much of what's been published in fantasy in the last 20 years.

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  31. I know it's not great stuff and accept that. Still, I'd rather read Lin Carter any day over much of what's been published in fantasy in the last 20 years.

    Yeah, maybe I was being too harsh; I tend to wax hyperbolic about bad fantasy and SF. I haven't read any fantasy written after about 1980. I think it was halfway through the first, wildly popular, Shanarra book that I realized the genre was in trouble. It's great that some of the good old stuff like CAS is coming back into print.

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  32. I think it was halfway through the first, wildly popular, Shanarra book that I realized the genre was in trouble.

    You are wise.

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  33. Or after Terry Goodkind, Robert Jordan, David Eddings, and Raymond E. Feist all decided to have a contest and see who could drag out the mega-epic fantasy series the longest?

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  34. James said:
    None of this is meant to suggest De Camp was a black hatted villain, but I bring it up because I think he did do many disservices to REH and HPL and continues to have a lasting impact on popular (and even academic) perceptions of these authors. Many bits of misinformation -- "facts" people think they know about Howard and Lovecraft -- have their origin in De Camp and I think it's not at all unreasonable to call him to the mat for them.

    This is a good clarification, James. I haven't read any REH biographies outside of de Camp's, but I have read Joshi and several other HPL biographers' works, and they certainly do call into question a lot of de Camp's facts. This makes me wonder, retrospectively, if his other non-fiction work that I cited above suffers from similar lapses? Does anyone know if those books (Great Cities, Ancient Engineers, etc.) have been reviewed since their initial publications 30-40+ years ago??

    Victor said:
    I'm more inclined to think that he wrote from the limited perspective he must have had, without a lot of direct contact with either subject, and without full information about Lovecraft or Howard's lives.

    This is a very common problem with first biographies: Melville's first several perpetuated misinterpretations brought to light in his earliest biographies, too.

    de Camp never wrote a bio of CAS, did he?

    Allan.

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  35. Or after Terry Goodkind, Robert Jordan, David Eddings, and Raymond E. Feist all decided to have a contest and see who could drag out the mega-epic fantasy series the longest?

    LOL, you ain't kidding. The winning condition seems to be that you must be the last one living and still publishing. You left out George R. R. Martin :). Actually, I like his SoIaF pretty well (which means I have read fantasy since 1980, I'd forgotten about him).

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  36. grodog - de Camp never wrote a bio of CAS, did he?

    No, he didn't, but Scott Connors (one of the editors of the Night Shade 5-volume collected CAS) is supposed to be working on a biography. Not sure if there has been any indication when it will be finished. It should help there are still living people who knew CAS personally, since he survived into the 1960s unlike HPL and REH. For my money, he was the most interesting of the WT "three musketeers", so I'm greatly looking forward to it.

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  37. This makes me wonder, retrospectively, if his other non-fiction work that I cited above suffers from similar lapses? Does anyone know if those books (Great Cities, Ancient Engineers, etc.) have been reviewed since their initial publications 30-40+ years ago??

    Yes, there have been, but I can't recall where I read them. I did so online recently and my recollection is that, as one might expect, many of De Camp's "facts" are incorrect and his interpretations wronger still. Lost Continents, for example, is critical of Alfred Wegener's continental drift theory that now seems to be correct. I'd not be surprised to find similar errors in his other non-fiction work.

    de Camp never wrote a bio of CAS, did he?

    He did not.

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  38. Eh, I didn't leave it out, mostly because all the others kinda started back in the 90's and have been cranking them out like clockwork ever since. Martin, I think, wrote his mega-fantasy epic as an "anti-epic" since he seems to take a lot of glee in brutally killing or maiming lots of characters, there's almost no magic, and as far as I can tell there's no mysterious race of super-dudes who have all sorts of cool but bizarre customs that, if the world were turned into an RPG, every 15 year old cheesemonger would want to play.

    Give it time though, and I'm sure he'll catch up eventually. The books are already fulfilling the page count requirements.

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  39. For my money, he was the most interesting of the WT "three musketeers", so I'm greatly looking forward to it.

    I agree wholeheartedly. CAS is my favorite of the three as well.

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  40. I think it was halfway through the first, wildly popular, Shanarra book that I realized the genre was in trouble.

    Has anyone else looked at this page on the history of fantasy? I see plenty to argue with here, but most of all I'm surprised that the article stops when and where it does. It's almost as if it were written by a reader of this blog.

    I started reading fantasy a couple of years after the first Shannara book was published and stopped around 1990 - ie most of my reading charted the fall of 'debased' post D&D-influenced lit, and included some Eddings, Feist, Bear, McCaffrey (who was doing girlpornfantasy way back in 1968!), Donaldson and Anthony (although no Brooks - I couldn't stomach the covers). The thing is, all those folks could spin a decent yarn when they put their minds to it (not, admittedly, across multiple books), and in general their prose didn't sink to the depths Moorcock regularly plumbed. Despite some clear commonalities, I think they were a pretty diverse lot, and all seemed keen to show conflicted heroes making occasionally tough decisions. So I'm wondering: where would they fall on the grognardia meter? They're obviously not Appendix N material, but are they the dreaded High Fantasy? Are they the pernicious influence that keeps current readers from grasping the original intent of D&D's authors? If they're not, where does the line fall? Can we chart an advancing front of unPulp?

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  41. So I'm wondering: where would they fall on the grognardia meter? They're obviously not Appendix N material, but are they the dreaded High Fantasy? Are they the pernicious influence that keeps current readers from grasping the original intent of D&D's authors? If they're not, where does the line fall? Can we chart an advancing front of unPulp?

    Most of those authors do indeed fall into the realm of High Fantasy, at least in my estimation. I don't think all of them are bad writers -- I have a fondness for Donaldson, or at least his original Thomas Covenant trilogy -- but I can't say that any of them really have much in common thematically or stylistically with the books that influenced early D&D.

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