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The Sword of Rhiannon
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2015 Reads > TSoR: Pulp Fiction!

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Paulo Limp (paulolimp) | 164 comments I admit I was a bit disappointed early on the book. Characters paper-thin, no thoughts on character building or motivations. Straight to action! Calling it Science Fiction was clearly far fetched. But Leigh Brackett has quite the curriculum, and I was confused. Then it dawned on me: it is Pulp Fiction!

I hope I'm not being disrespectful to Ms. Brackett's memory, but there was no such thing as a wealthy science fiction writer in the 40's, and people had to earn money where they could. Her records on successful screenplays prove that she could adapt her writing to the intended audience, and this was clearly directed to people who wanted just to spend 40c on an adventure without complications.

It is a fun book, I'm almost done. But it is in truth a Sword disguised as Laser. Veronica 1 x 0 Tom.


message 2: by Daniel (last edited Apr 29, 2015 12:28PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Daniel K | 164 comments Yeah, thread title pretty covers idea of this book. I was surprised that almost for 40 years after first Barsoom book (1912) it was still popular to write in the same style. What it was if not stagnation?


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Why does it being less "thoughtful" make it a fantasy novel? :S Fantasy and Science Fiction are both subsets of speculative fiction.


Adam Gutschenritter (heregrim) | 114 comments I really liked the plot of this book it reminded me of the movie John Carter in all the good ways, since I am willing to admit that it was a great plot for such a horrible movie, I still haven't got to the books yet. A fairly strait forward redemption story with all normal twists and turns. Your mentioning of pulp fiction was great, can't believe that I hadn't thought that yet.


Mark (markmtz) | 2480 comments When I was googling to find a copy of the book, I ran across several interesting reviews and was reminded that Brackett's books were often labeled "planetary romance" or "sword and planet" stories. As I read this book, I realized that I've read quite a few stories of this type long ago, but there's something in Brackett's prose that doesn't feel quite that old. Not sure what it is, but it was an enjoyable read.


message 6: by Mark (last edited May 01, 2015 07:35PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Mark (markmtz) | 2480 comments Since this book was so short, maybe I'll read more of Brackett's work. I found this book on my bookshelf; two more of her Mars stories and this is a great cover. People of the Talisman was first published as "Black Amazon of Mars" and The Secret of Sinharat was "Queen of the Martian Catacombs".




message 7: by Mark (last edited May 01, 2015 07:34PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Mark (markmtz) | 2480 comments Conan the Conqueror / The Sword of Rhiannon is the copy of this month's pick I read. A built-in alternate! I love these old paperback covers.




message 8: by Michal (new)

Michal (michaltheassistantpigkeeper) | 294 comments ^Boy Conan is wearing a strange costume on that cover. I can recognize the scene, too, he should be wearing executioner's robes, note that Roman getup.


message 9: by Ulmer Ian (last edited May 01, 2015 08:00AM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Ulmer Ian (eean) | 341 comments Anja wrote: "Why does it being less "thoughtful" make it a fantasy novel? :S Fantasy and Science Fiction are both subsets of speculative fiction."

Yes this! Scientifiction has always had adventure stories like this. Hugo Gernsback defined the word and the entire scifi project and then published a lot of adventure stories anyways.

Anyways, just from reading the first few pages, I think one thing we are missing a bit reading it in 2015 are some of the tropes her readers in the 40s and 50s would've known more about.

This provides a good overview over the Martian canal thing:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martian_...

So by the 1940s we had good enough photos to discredit the Martian canals, but like it mentions there wasn't a lander with surface pictures until the 60s. Plenty of gaps in knowledge to fill in with some imagination.

http://www.sf-encyclopedia.com/entry/...

Puts Leigh Brackett in context (ctrl-f for her) with all the other Martian work going on.


message 10: by [deleted user] (new)

Ulmer Ian wrote: "Anja wrote: "Why does it being less "thoughtful" make it a fantasy novel? :S Fantasy and Science Fiction are both subsets of speculative fiction."

Yes this! Scientifiction has always had adventure..."


Good catch. Two sides of the same coin. Fantasy novels can be thoughtful and sci fi novels can be space operas or adventure stories.


message 11: by Mark (new) - rated it 3 stars

Mark (markmtz) | 2480 comments There was also a British hardcover version where Carse is wearing pajamas with his sword!




message 12: by Mark (new) - rated it 3 stars

Mark (markmtz) | 2480 comments And here's a large collection of covers with stories by Bracket. You have to open up the images in a new tab to see larger versions of the covers.

http://www.gwthomas.org/brackett.htm


Daniel K | 164 comments Mark wrote: "There was also a British hardcover version where Carse is wearing pajamas with his sword!

"


And why does the dhuvian serpent have human palms? )


message 14: by Mark (last edited May 02, 2015 06:49AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Mark (markmtz) | 2480 comments Project Gutenberg has a couple of Brackett's pulp stories in ebook format. They've been reprinted elsewhere according to these Goodreads entries: Black Amazon of Mars and A World Is Born

https://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/auth...

The Gutenberg version of Black Amazon of Mars is from Planet Stories, March 1951




message 15: by Trike (new)

Trike | 8768 comments I'm a little surprised by the OP, since a lot of Brackett's stuff is literally pulp fiction: it appeared in the actual pulp magazines which give the genre its name.


message 16: by Mark (new) - rated it 3 stars

Mark (markmtz) | 2480 comments Leigh Brackett in audio at

http://www.sffaudio.com/?page_id=3434

including links to Audible, podcast fiction, BBC radio broadcast fiction and an interview.


message 17: by Mark (new) - rated it 3 stars

Mark (markmtz) | 2480 comments Hey, Lem's cousin is on the cover of a Brackett pulp adventure!

Planet Stories, Fall 1949




message 18: by Mark (new) - rated it 3 stars

Mark (markmtz) | 2480 comments Ok, last Brackett link for today. a brief biography with a pretty good bibliography from The Thrilling Detective website.

http://www.thrillingdetective.com/tri...


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John Ellsworth | 1 comments There was something mildly refreshing about the fact that this is essentially a fantasy story set on Mars. After reading "The Martian", by Andy Weir, which I loved, with it's focus on more hard science, it was great to have a story with a tone such as this. I can also appreciate the lesson in morality about what greed can get you. I'm halfway through and looking forward to the end.


Daran | 599 comments From my copy of The Sword of Rhiannon
"Leigh Brackett has always said that her stories about Mars had their inspiration in in Edgar Rice Burough's Martian novels....From the haunting concept of a dying world of silent cities, she took off on her own, and her obsession with Celtic mythology and legend shows very clearly in her interplanetary tales."

This story is literally Sword & Planet; because it's about a sword and a planet. I love this stuff, and have ever since I read The War of the Worlds. Mars as an ancient planet of semi-slumbering malevolence and mystery is spine-tingling in its possibilities.

Not only am I seeing Burrough's influence but also Rafael Sabatini, and Lew Wallace.


AndrewP (andrewca) | 2501 comments Black Amazon of mars is available as a free audio book from Librivox. There are actually 3 versions so I don't know which one is better.

https://librivox.org/author/1359?prim...


message 22: by Sean (new) - rated it 4 stars

Sean | 353 comments John wrote: "this is essentially a fantasy story set on Mars"

That's pretty much been my thought since beginning this book - you could swap out all the occurrences of "Mars" and "science" with fantasy terms, and it would have no impact on the story. It makes this story being published in the same volume as a Conan story strangely appropriate - Sword of Rhiannon/Sea-Kings of Mars has a lot more in common with Conan than anything else (except maybe the John Carter books).

That's not to imply that this book is bad - it's entertaining, which is probably all it's supposed to be. Pulp is the literary version of popcorn movies.

Also, Daran - I've read War of the Worlds, and I don't think it qualifies as Sword & Planet. If anything, it's Invasion lit, but with Martians instead of Dirty Foreigners.

Link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Invasion...


message 23: by Daran (last edited May 04, 2015 06:17PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Daran | 599 comments Sean wrote: "Also, Daran - I've read War of the Worlds, and I don't think it qualifies as Sword & Planet. If anything, it's Invasion lit, but with Martians instead of Dirty Foreigners."

You're right, it doesn't. It is a story about an ancient race of superhuman scientists, though. It got adopted as a common thread in martian stories in the early 20th.

Brackett's Mars stories used whatever she liked abut all the stories she'd read. Used whatever worked. People weren't as neurotic about genre back then.


Ulmer Ian (eean) | 341 comments I would say they were more neurotic back then. For the past ten years or so there's no taboo in calling your fantasy book fantasy so authors do. There is less pressure to check the scifi genre box.


message 25: by Daran (last edited May 04, 2015 08:29PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Daran | 599 comments Ulmer Ian wrote: "I would say they were more neurotic back then. For the past ten years or so there's no taboo in calling your fantasy book fantasy so authors do. There is less pressure to check the scifi genre box."

I would disagree.

Science fiction, fantasy, and horror had their own publications, but also shared a large market. Editors weren't looking for a set criteria. They had an idea of what they wanted to publish, and they bought what they liked.


Paulo Limp (paulolimp) | 164 comments John Wrote: "There was something mildly refreshing about the fact that this is essentially a fantasy story set on Mars. After reading "The Martian", by Andy Weir, which I loved, with it's focus on more hard science, it was great to have a story with a tone such as this."

I agree. I admit I don't like pulp fiction myself, too light for my taste, but it is a nice change of pace! Thanks for that, Tom!

Another interesting thing in the story is the theme that very advanced science would look like magic to less advanced civilizations. Brackett does make it look like magic in the book, but at such a time (when science was booming and science fiction was shaping itself) I suppose it was a new concept.


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Mark wrote: "Conan the Conqueror / The Sword of Rhiannon is the copy of this month's pick I read. A built-in alternate! I love these old paperback covers.

"


Mark - you lucky boy! I would love to have a copy of that one (I'm a bit of a sucker for those old Ace Doubles).


message 28: by [deleted user] (new)

Mark wrote: "There was also a British hardcover version where Carse is wearing pajamas with his sword!

"


That is truly the worst SF/fantasy cover I have ever seen! The two standing characters look like (bad) waxworks or cardboard cutouts.


message 29: by [deleted user] (new)

Daniel wrote: "Yeah, thread title pretty covers idea of this book. I was surprised that almost for 40 years after first Barsoom book (1912) it was still popular to write in the same style. What it was if not stag..."

They were writing for their market - this kind of stuff is what the readers wanted at that time. OK, it may not be of the highest quality, but it was fun and exciting. To be fair to Leigh Brackett, she was one of the best writers of this type of story - the quality of her writing is much better than most of the other pulp fictioneers. This is not the best of her 'Mars'-based tales, but it is still a good read. Although she (rightly) acknowledges her debt to ERB, her writing is far superior to his - if you have ever read any of his John Carter books you will know this. ERB was a great ideas man but a terrible writer (I actually prefer his Venus & Tarzan stories to his Barsoom series).


Paulo Limp (paulolimp) | 164 comments I must say, the covers people are posting on this thread are awesome - in a pulpy way!


message 31: by Sky (new)

Sky | 665 comments Mark wrote: "Conan the Conqueror / The Sword of Rhiannon is the copy of this month's pick I read. A built-in alternate! I love these old paperback covers."

I grabbed this used version off Amazon after seeing your suggestion. Just arrived today - Thanks!


Lindsay | 593 comments John wrote: "There was something mildly refreshing about the fact that this is essentially a fantasy story set on Mars. After reading "The Martian", by Andy Weir, which I loved, with it's focus on more hard sci..."

I recommend The Daedalus Incident by Michael J. Martinez. It features stories set in parallel universes that end up clashing. One universe uses familiar physics and follows a mining colony on Mars. The other is set in a 17th century sword and planet reality where travel by sailing ship to other planets is possible, there's alien life all over the solar system and the American colonies have been established in the moons of Jupiter.


message 33: by Rob (last edited May 14, 2015 08:08PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Rob  (quintessential_defenestration) | 1035 comments My only experience with pulpy stuff is Chandler (who is probably one of the greatest prose stylists of the 20th century? Maybe?), Howard (whose stories are just thunder and blood incarnate in text), and Bester (who was really disappointing compared to the previous two, but still, hugo winner for reason). So yeah, I guess I read the wrong stuff and have far too high a bar for pulp, because I really found this mediocre. If it had been 50% longer and had received another couple editing passes (some lines and even paragraphs are really, really good), it might have reached 4 stars for me, but now it's looking like a solid 3.


Carrie | 29 comments Rob Secundus wrote: "My only experience with pulpy stuff is Chandler (who is probably one of the greatest prose stylists of the 20th century? Maybe?), Howard (whose stories are just thunder and blood incarnate in text)..."

Rob, it's funny you mention Chandler. The Lady in the Lake was my first pulp novel and I was surprised by how really, really well written it was. Imagine my surprise when I started to branch out. Now I regularly reread his stuff.

This one was fun and relaxing, not demanding at all which was exactly what I was in the mood for. Inoffensive too! I was braced for some breathtaking 'ism based on the time period but it wasn't too bad.


Brendan (mistershine) | 930 comments Fans of Burroughs and/or Howard: which ONE book by each author would you recommend someone unfamiliar with their work to convince that person of the awesomeness of these writers? As in "If you read just one book by this author, it has to be ___".


message 36: by John (Taloni) (new)

John (Taloni) Taloni (johntaloni) | 4074 comments Hard to go wrong with A Princess of Mars.


Lindsay | 593 comments Yes, I agree with A Princess of Mars for Burroughs.

I'm not sure that will convince you of its awesomeness though. All of the books from this era are incredibly dated, not just in terms of the social mores of the day, but in terms of the writing level and the education and expectations of the target audience.

The modern SF&F writer can expect an audience with a college/university education with a floor of high school graduation. How do you think that compares to the audiences when Howard and Burroughs were writing?


message 38: by Rob (last edited May 14, 2015 08:11PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Rob  (quintessential_defenestration) | 1035 comments Carrie wrote: "Rob, it's funny you mention Chandler. The Lady in the Lake was my first pulp novel and I was surprised by how really, really well written it was. Imagine my surprise when I started to branch out. Now I regularly reread his stuff."

Yeah he and Wodehouse are my gotos when my brain just needs like a horde of really pleasant sentences one after the other.

And actually a bunch of S&L people might like him too-- as the title Carrie references suggests, his detective novels are to varying degrees kind of Arthurian romances (Farewell my Lovely is straight up a Grail myth).


message 39: by Mark (new) - rated it 3 stars

Mark (markmtz) | 2480 comments Brendan wrote: "Fans of Burroughs and/or Howard: which ONE book by each author would you recommend someone unfamiliar with their work to convince that person of the awesomeness of these writers? As in "If you read..."

another vote for A Princess of Mars which is available as a free ebook from the Gutenberg Project

http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/62


Paulo Limp (paulolimp) | 164 comments Rob Secundus wrote: "If it had been 50% longer and had received another couple editing passes (some lines and even paragraphs are really, really good), it might have reached 4 stars for me, but now it's looking like a solid 3."

Oh, sure, I gave it a 3 stars as well! I don't think it deserves any more than that. But put in persperctive, it was fun to read, and it is a nice example of good pulp fiction - given that this was what should be expected from pulp.


message 41: by [deleted user] (new)

Brendan wrote: "Fans of Burroughs and/or Howard: which ONE book by each author would you recommend someone unfamiliar with their work to convince that person of the awesomeness of these writers? As in "If you read..."

I'm sorry guys, but whilst "A Princess of Mars" has to be considered the origin of Sword & Planet (and by that, the yardstick by which all subsequent S&P should be measured), I much prefer "Pirates of Venus". APoM has some interesting ideas re: world-building, but I hate the character of John Carter, the dialogue has more cheese than a dairy farm and some of the internal logic is definitely not from our universe (for example, nobody on Barsoom wears any clothes, whilst on Earth most of the people wear clothes - of many different styles - however, the good folk of Helium have been watching the humans from afar and the thing that strikes them as the most hideous aspect of humanity is the wearing of hats!) I think that by the time ERB got around to writing the Carson stories, quite a few other writers had already ripped-off Barsoom, so he had their ideas, plus his own and twenty-odd additional years of writing experience - this resulted in a better class of 'nonsense' (I mean that in an affectionate way).


message 42: by Sean (new) - rated it 4 stars

Sean | 353 comments Brendan wrote: "Fans of Burroughs and/or Howard: which ONE book by each author would you recommend someone unfamiliar with their work to convince that person of the awesomeness of these writers? As in "If you read..."

Well, since everyone else has covered Burroughs, I think I'll address Howard. The thing is, the Conan stories are mostly short works, rather than novels (at least those written by Howard himself). I believe there's one actual Conan novel by Howard (The Hour of the Dragon) and a few novellas. So really, the question here is more "which collection should I get?"

The answer there is pretty much whichever one you like. There's a number of collections out there, many containing all the Conan stories. But personally, I'd recommend Del Rey's The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian to start with - thirteen stories, most of them originally published in Weird Tales.


message 43: by Christopher (new)

Christopher Preiman | 347 comments The best part of that collection and the two that follow are that they don't try to put the stories in chronological order, instead offering them in the order written.


message 44: by Sean (new) - rated it 4 stars

Sean | 353 comments I know. I get that publishing them in "chronological" order makes sense, but this way you get to see Conan develop as a character. And while I know Phoenix on the Sword is technically late in Conan's life, it also begins with the quote most associated with the stories.


Joe Informatico (joeinformatico) | 888 comments Sean wrote: "John wrote: "this is essentially a fantasy story set on Mars"

That's pretty much been my thought since beginning this book - you could swap out all the occurrences of "Mars" and "science" with fantasy terms, and it would have no impact on the story.


You know, you could do the same with Isaac Asimov's Foundation. Replace the Galactic Empire with a fantasy empire, psychohistory with prophecy, etc. and it would be essentially the same story. Does that mean Foundation isn't a science fiction story?


Stephen Richter (stephenofllongbeach) | 1339 comments I listened to the Princess of Mars audio prior to starting with The Sword of Rhiannon since I had learned that Brackett had read the series as a child. That interview can be found at
http://www.loa.org/sciencefiction/bio...


message 47: by Sean (new) - rated it 4 stars

Sean | 353 comments Joe Informatico wrote: "You know, you could do the same with Isaac Asimov's Foundation. Replace the Galactic Empire with a fantasy empire, psychohistory with prophecy, etc. and it would be essentially the same story. Does that mean Foundation isn't a science fiction story?"

First off, I just want to make it clear that my saying Sword of Rhiannon is basically a fantasy story that just happens to be set on Mars isn't criticism. I enjoyed the book well enough - my biggest problem with it was that it was so short.

But as for your comment, no. Because making the Foundation books into fantasy would require a bit more work.

For starters, psychohistory was specifically designed by Asimov to be realistic, which is why it only works on a large-scale, broad-strokes level.

Also, creating a society like like what's established on Terminus would be difficult to set up in a fantasy setting. Putting them on an island wouldn't work, because the size needed to establish and maintain a population would lead to wondering why it isn't already inhabited.

And as much as the Foundation's technology starts being treated like magic by other societies, doing the same in a fantasy setting would also be difficult. If it's actual magic, then why don't any of these other societies also have it? And as impressive as old Roman ruins are, at worst later peoples wondered how they built said ruins, and then tried to figure it out on their own.

Now in Sword of Rhiannon, much of it could easily be said to be fantasy. How many older novels have characters from the modern day (or the future, in this case) miraculously traveling to another world (or other time), where they go on to have amazing adventures fighting the forces of evil?

Again, this isn't a criticism, just an observation.


message 48: by [deleted user] (new)

Sean wrote: "Joe Informatico wrote: "You know, you could do the same with Isaac Asimov's Foundation. Replace the Galactic Empire with a fantasy empire, psychohistory with prophecy, etc. and it would be essentia..."

I absolutely agree with you, Sean - TSoR is unquestionably pulp and unquestionably fantasy. Leigh Brackett makes no effort to explain any of the 'science' in this story (if indeed, there is any...) and surely that is a bare-minimum requisite for a story to be considered SF. By contrast, there are fantasy elements from start to finish. That said, I love reading Leigh Brackett's stories and the lack of credible scientific explanations is no barrier to that. If I want convincing SF, then I'll read someone else's books - it's not like there's any shortage of them, after all!


message 49: by Paulo (last edited May 22, 2015 03:05PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Paulo Limp (paulolimp) | 164 comments Sean wrote: "Joe Informatico wrote: "You know, you could do the same with Isaac Asimov's Foundation. Replace the Galactic Empire with a fantasy empire, psychohistory with prophecy, etc. and it would be essentia..."

I must also disagree with Joe Informatico here. There's a world of difference between Foundation and The Sword of Rhiannon. Every work of Science Fiction is speculative - as if it would say "If things go this way in the future...", or "if we presume that this technology is possible". If Foundation can be translated into fantasy, than every piece of Sci-Fi ever written could also be.

Foundation speculates about the possibility of social sciences evolving to a point where they could be as precise as Physics, and tells a story to illustrate that. In contrast, TSoR does not try to set any scientific premise to build the story. Mars is just the background - could be the Caribbean, could be Narnia, doesn't matter.

Even so, as I said on my first post - this is not necessarily a bad thing. People at the time enjoyed this kind of reading, and it was a fun experience to poke into the this literary style, without prejudice. I didn't learn anything from TSoR, but I don't think my time was ill spent.


Dwayne Caldwell | 141 comments Yeah, this didn't necessarily have to take place on Mars for sure. I mean aside of the occasional mention of Deimos and Phobos rising and setting, this could have been anywhere. But can you imagine how much fun these pulp writers would have had had they known about Mars' amazingly huge features like Olympus Mons and the Valles Marineris?


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