... Illustration by Brandon Kitkouski ... That's Racist! Tuesday, February 10, 2009At Planet Stories, we're all about recovering cherished pieces of SF's past; treasures that have fallen between the cracks and been forgotten by modern readers, despite their merit and importance to the genre. But one of the problems with history is that it happened in the past... and the past is rarely clean. In order to unearth the gems, you have to dig up some serious dirt. So let's get messy. ... Let's talk...
Illustration by Brandon Kitkouski
Tuesday, February 10, 2009
At Planet Stories, we're all about recovering cherished pieces of SF's past; treasures that have fallen between the cracks and been forgotten by modern readers, despite their merit and importance to the genre. But one of the problems with history is that it happened in the past... and the past is rarely clean. In order to unearth the gems, you have to dig up some serious dirt. So let's get messy.
Let's talk about racism.
One of the issues we've run up against time and again with Planet Stories, especially with stories from back in the 1930s, is the use of racist language and ideas. Even beyond the standard prejudicial themes and cliches of the day—the fact that the "advanced" races were always white, and all the dark-skinned characters were described by their bright white teeth (seriously, try finding one where that isn't mentioned)—pulp writers were fascinated by the issue of race. Remember, this is decades before the Civil Rights Movement, a time when the oldest readers might still remember legalized slavery.
Otis Adelbert Kline was no different. Both of his novels published by Planet Stories, The Swordsman of Mars and the newly available Outlaws of Mars, deal extensively with the issue of race, and for Outlaws, the entire plot depends on it: a planetary race riot between the white-skinned rulers, their dark servitors, and the menacing yellow men from another world. The patois of Dr. Morgan's faithful African-American servant, Plato, is also likely to make the unsuspecting modern reader cringe—for in this blatant (if sympathetic) caricature, Kline paints a picture of a past most Americans would like to forget.
Yet, as Joe Lansdale points out in his introduction, you can't hold these stories to modern standards of political correctness—and in fact to do so would be a disservice to the author. In his words:
Kline's work is of its time. Non-white races suffer under his hand, though Plato, the black servant of Dr. Morgan, is treated kindly enough, if in an unintentionally condescending way. Still, Kline, like Burroughs, would have probably been considered liberal in their times. They could at least appreciate the fact that someone of a different color could be brave and loyal and worthy of the mantle of humanity. Even Jack London had problems with that, and no doubt he is a more celebrated author.
"Worthy of the mantle of humanity." A phrase so obvious to most of us today that it seems offensive, yet Joe is absolutely right. At the time, belief in racial equality was a bold position in the States.
Which is why at Planet Stories, we feel that it's important to give you the whole manuscripts, unabridged and unabashed. In the past, publishers uncomfortable with content sometimes cut drastically from older books (especially Kline) in order to sanitize for their new era. We say: let the works stand on their own and speak for themselves. H. P. Lovecraft used the N-word. Robert E. Howard had some (today) scandalously negative portrayals of non-white races. Yet this is history, and to redact history is to lose a vital part of how we got to where we are.
In 2009, with the United States' first black president in office, I can read these books and separate the prejudices of the time from the stories themselves, and I have faith that Planet Stories readers will do the same. If anything, I think these books are all the more significant for their transgressions—a glimpse, not just of science fiction's history, but America's past as a whole.
... Illustration by Brandon Kitkouski ... Lansdale on Kline ... Tuesday, February 3, 2009One of the greatest strengths of the Planet Stories book line is that, in addition to republishing SF classics by some brilliant and historically significant authors, we have the chance to get other amazing authors to introduce them. People like F. Paul Wilson, George Lucas, C. J. Cherryh, Ben Bova, Samuel R. Delany—it never fails to blow my mind every time I see their names in my email inbox....
Illustration by Brandon Kitkouski
Lansdale on Kline
Tuesday, February 3, 2009
One of the greatest strengths of the Planet Stories book line is that, in addition to republishing SF classics by some brilliant and historically significant authors, we have the chance to get other amazing authors to introduce them. People like F. Paul Wilson, George Lucas, C. J. Cherryh, Ben Bova, Samuel R. Delany—it never fails to blow my mind every time I see their names in my email inbox. Through their introductions, these authors get to contextualize the forgotten literary heroes that influenced them most and help usher their teachers back into print, the better to educate the next generation of science fiction and fantasy authors.
Which, really, makes me wonder why I'm saying anything at all about these books, when I could get out of the way and let them do it for me. So without further ado, here's an excerpt from Bubba Ho-Tep creator Joe R. Lansdale on why Otis Adelbert Kline's The Outlaws of Mars deserves to be in your shopping cart as we speak:
The Outlaws of Mars was written in the thirties and appeared in Argosy Weekly. It is very much in the Burroughs interplanetary format. A young American, Jerry Morgan, already skilled in the ways of combat due to his time in the army, goes to the home of his uncle, Dr. Morgan, and is after a little too much explanation about telepathy and machinery, transported, via machine, to Mars. The reason for Jerry's departure is embarrassment of a sort, having to do with a woman. Though the event is never fully explained, it appears Jerry has allowed a lie about himself to exist to keep from compromising the aforementioned young lady. So, our noble, romantic, and very Victorian hero flees our world for one of adventure on Mars. Upon his arrival, there is enough action for three novels: some court intrigue, treachery, weird inhabitants, sword fighting, and one hot mama named Junia.
Frankly, the plot is of little consequence, and is not dissimilar from those of the Burroughs novels, or of any sword and planet adventure written by Kline himself. Movement is the name of the game, and Kline provides that in the proverbial spades. There is hardly a moment to breathe, and the only time the novel bogs down is when Kline tries to justify his plot with too much explanation. When Kline is moving the story forward, bringing on the action, keeping us tightly wrapped up in his warm and bloody dream, we are with him all the way. It is only when he pauses to explain that the cocoon we were so tightly wrapped in breaks open and we fall out.
These moments are few, and Kline is more than willing to rewrap us, and we are more than willing to let him. There is plenty of color and beauty and a sweeping approach to story that reminds me of the cinema. In fact, with the popularity of such films as Star Wars and Indiana Jones, I would have thought by now, considering special effects have improved to the point of being almost as incredible as our most astounding dreams, that Burroughs and possibly Kline's characters would have been updated and filmed. Certainly, it's this color and sweep and majesty of background that make these stories so damned appealing; they are like movies in the head.
... O.A.K. for the win! Tuesday, January 27, 2009It's teaser time! Otis Adelbert Kline, the man who brought you so much sword-swinging, dalf-fighting, empire-overthrowing Martian action in The Swordsman of Mars, is back again with all that and more in The Outlaws of Mars! Scroll down to take a peek at the action that's in store: She screamed and shrank back from him, evidently rooted to the spot with terror. ... Scarcely had he regained his balance, when Jerry's attention was attracted by a...
She screamed and shrank back from him, evidently rooted to the spot with terror.
Scarcely had he regained his balance, when Jerry's attention was attracted by a new sound—a terrific roar which came from a huge beast that was bounding toward them along the path. With a yawning, tooth-filled mouth as large as that of an alligator, a furry black body fully as big as that of a lion, short legs, and a hairless, leathery tail, paddle-shaped and edged with sharp spines, the oncoming monster certainly looked formidable.
Jerry thought and acted swiftly. He realized that to attempt to stop such a creature with one shot would be futile. If his first bullet should not be instantly fatal, it would be upon them, a wounded and enraged instrument of death and destruction, before he could bring it down with a second. His first duty was to get the girl out of the path of the charging monster.
Gripping his rifle in his left hand, he bent and encircled her slender waist with his right arm. Then he leaped to one side, just in time to avoid those gaping jaws. But the spring he made surprised him fully as much as it did the baffled beast, for it carried him clear over the hedge, and into a carefully tended bed of tiny flowering plants upon the other side.
For the first time since he had landed on Mars, he realized the tremendous advantage of his Earth-trained muscles. Nor was he slow to make use of it. The short-legged beast, unable to leap over the hedge, was crashing through it. So he turned, and still carrying the girl beneath his arm, bounded away with the tremendous leaps which it would have been difficult for a terrestrial kangaroo to equal in its native habitat.
The slender form of the girl was feather-light, and impeded him scarcely at all. On Earth she would have weighed about ninety pounds; on Mars she weighed but thirty-four.
Glancing back over his shoulder, he saw that although he had a good start on the beast, it was following him with a speed that was amazing in a creature with such short legs. Instinctively, he had started toward the wall. Soon the stairway loomed before him, and he bounded up it, five steps at a time. As soon as he reached the top of the wall he put the girl down and turned to face their pursuer, which had meantime reached the steps.
Snapping his gun to his shoulder, he took careful aim between the blazing green eyes, and fired...
... Kline is Back! Tuesday, January 13, 2009One of Erik's first pulp discoveries when he started researching books for Planet Stories was a man named Otis Adelbert Kline, a former giant of the sword-and-planet genre who is remembered today primarily as the literary agent for Conan-creator Robert E. Howard. From the very beginning, Kline symbolized everything Erik wanted in a Planet Stories book—sword-swinging adventure on other worlds with strange creatures, bizarre cultures,...
Kline is Back!
Tuesday, January 13, 2009
One of Erik's first pulp discoveries when he started researching books for Planet Stories was a man named Otis Adelbert Kline, a former giant of the sword-and-planet genre who is remembered today primarily as the literary agent for Conan-creator Robert E. Howard. From the very beginning, Kline symbolized everything Erik wanted in a Planet Stories book—sword-swinging adventure on other worlds with strange creatures, bizarre cultures, scantily-clad princesses, and two-fisted plot advancement on every page.
It took us over a year, but in the end we did it, and resurrected Otis Adelbert Kline's The Swordsman of Mars from the literary graveyard, bringing it back for modern audiences to enjoy. And they did—which is why we're now privileged to bring you its standalone sequel, The Outlaws of Mars.
It's all here—the swords, the action, the double-crosses and intrigue—but this time we've changed it up and tried a different cover style with veteran fantasy artist Brandon Kitkouski. While I'm a huge fan of Daryl Madryk's Swordsman cover, I have to tip my hat to Brandon for his take on the rampaging dalf.
But I'm just one person. What do you think? What about a cover makes you pick it up, and which artists would you like to see more of from Planet Stories? Head on over to the Planet Stories messageboards and make your opinions heard!
... Master of the Pit Tuesday, June 10, 2008Over the course of publishing the first two Kane of Old Mars novels, I've talked a lot on this blog about Michael Moorcock. About how he's won more awards than you can shake a stick at, and rightly so. How he was one of the pioneers of modern fantasy, and created or popularized such fantasy tropes as the weakling antihero warrior, the struggle between Law and Chaos, and the concept of the multiverse. So this week, rather than prattling on, I thought...
Master of the Pit
Tuesday, June 10, 2008
Over the course of publishing the first two Kane of Old Mars novels, I've talked a lot on this blog about Michael Moorcock. About how he's won more awards than you can shake a stick at, and rightly so. How he was one of the pioneers of modern fantasy, and created or popularized such fantasy tropes as the weakling antihero warrior, the struggle between Law and Chaos, and the concept of the "multiverse." So this week, rather than prattling on, I thought I'd cut right to the chase and give you a preview of the third and final Michael Kane book, Masters of the Pit:
They came in a howling pack, bursting from the trees and running down the beach towards us; grotesque parodies of human beings, waving clubs and crudely hammered swords, covered in hair and completely naked.
I could not at first believe my eyes as I drew my own sword without thinking and prepared to face them.
Though they walked upright, they had the half-human faces of dogs—bloodhounds were the nearest species I could think of.
What was more, the noises they made were indistinguishable from the baying of hounds.
So bizarre was their appearance, so sudden was their assault, that I was almost off my guard when the first club-brandishing dog-man came in to the attack.
I blocked the blow with my blade and sheared off the creature's fingers, finishing him cleanly with a thrust at his heart.
Another took his place, and more besides. I saw that we were completely surrounded by the pack. Apart from Hool Haji, Rokin and myself, there were probably only two other barbarians in our party, and there were probably some fifty of the dog-men.
I swung my sword in an arc, and it bit deep into the necks of two of the dog-men, causing them to fall.
The hounds' faces were slobbering, and the large eyes held a maniacal hatred which I had only previously seen in the eyes of mad dogs. I had the impression that if they bit me I would be infected with rabies.
Three more fell before my blade as all the old teachings of M. Clarchet, my French fencing master since childhood, came back to me.
Once again I became cool.
Once again I became nothing more than a fighting machine, concentrating entirely on defending myself against this mad attack...