If you have been saving up The X-Files for a binge watch, be warned of spoilers ahead.

The X-Files--don't stop believin'
The X-Files Season Ten–don’t stop believin’

Season ten of The X-Files is nothing if not ambitious. Over the course of only six broadcast hours it brings up or takes on transgenderism, Islamic terrorism, God, immigration, media conspiracies, motherhood, monsters, and medical experiments—some of which are more “out there” than others. While the assortment of threats and themes covers The X-Files’ usual ground, many topics seem to be thrown in more to give a sense of currency to the revamped show than to contribute materially to the goings-on. As flaws go, though, the sometimes blunt attempts to reference current issues are a mild one. It’s been a long time, after all.

Beginning with “My Struggle,” the initial, mainly serious episode that catches Mulder and Scully up to the present day and re-orients them in the vast government/alien conspiracy, the revival of The X-Files is a rollercoaster of topics, threats, and attitudes ranging from the grim to the hilarious, to the maudlin and the ridiculous. The new season presents a highly condensed version of the original series’ many moods, which, while engaging and on-point, taken as a whole come off as trying just a little too hard to hit every single mark.

The second episode, “Founder’s Mutation,” riffs on the theme of secret alien experiments brought up in “My Struggle” while still leaning on a monster-of-the-week story line. While the plot is interesting enough, it contained, for me, an enormous hole based on really questionable Department of Defense contractor hiring practices. This episode also brings in a fantasy version of Mulder and Scully’s son, William, and a whole host of regrets.

“Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster” is a complete 180 from the show’s previous serious tones, embracing the inherent silliness of the show in a very affectionate way. In between the mockery of modern life, psychoanalysis, and traditional lycanthropy, episode three hammers in as many easter eggs and inside jokes as an hour long show can hold. Of the current series, this is certainly my pick as the best installment.

The fourth episode, “Home Again,” is again a monster of the week, but without the ties to aliens and conspiracies. Art, Buddhist thought-forms, homelessness, exploitation, and disenfranchisement are all tied into a neat, greasy bundle of green goo and maggots that kills people. Graphically. The more interesting counterplot once again invokes their son and makes a rekindling of Mulder’s and Scully’s relationship seem genuinely possible, if not likely.

“Babylon,” episode five, again introduces a generous dose of silliness with the young, alternate versions of Mulder and Scully and Mulder’s wild night on suggested hallucinogens. However, the episode feels off balance because the dominant plot concerns visions of God, Islamic immigrants and suicide bombers. It is not an easy pairing.

After a recap of Scully’s history of involvement in the X-Files, the final episode of this short season, “My Struggle II,” comes back hard to the all-encompassing conspiracy from the first episode and the pervasive alien DNA problem. It retells a much-told plot (shades of The Stand and The Omega Man) with oddly stagey exposition and an utter lack of humor or lightness in an attempt to reference all the previous episodes. The younger agents are back, the hospital from episode two is back, the religious iconography from episode five, the Cigarette Smoking Man, the internet conspiracy theorist. The conspiracy becomes amplified with anti-vaccination hysteria, threatened ecological collapse, chemtrails causing immune system failure, and a doomsday virus set to kill all humanity unless it can be nullified. Of course there is far too much loaded into a single episode, and it ends on a wicked cliffhanger.

It would be cruel not to continue the show.

The X-Files Season Ten: Mulder and Scully in action
The X-Files Season Ten: Mulder and Scully in action

As of now, Fox has not committed to any additional seasons, but the possibility remains open, especially with the strong ratings the mini-series has garnered. All in all, the renewed X-Files with its older, wiser, more tested and more contemplative agents is a comfortable place for viewers to fall back into. The storylines, while crowded in a short season, are well paced and well written despite large doses of silliness, and the overall mood is not one of reboot but of reflection. There is pleanty of excitement still to be had, an there are still some truths to be sought after in this new version. And I think there are plenty of fans still willing, and quite eager, to look.

E.A. Ruppert contributes book and media reviews for NerdGoblin.com.  Thanks for checking this out. To keep up with the latest NerdGoblin developments, please like us on Facebook , follow us on Twitter, and sign up for the NerdGoblin Newsletter.

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Our Star Blazers!
Our Star Blazers!

While the action-packed Battle of the Planets was my introduction to anime science fiction, the more polished Star Blazers was my introduction to anime space opera. When I was but a wee nerdgoblin, being home sick from school meant getting to see Star Blazers, since the local station aired it half an hour before school normally let out. It was totally worth running a fever for. It was more grown up, and had a sweeping story arc and a huge cast of characters. I was hooked, and very happy whenever I got to hear the dramatic theme song:

We’re off to outer space

We’re leaving Mother Earth

To save the human race

Our Star Blazers!

 Ah, memories!

Star Blazers began its three-season-long saga in 1974 as the Japanese series Space Battleship Yamato. Alas, it was cancelled for low ratings in its home country. But then came Star Wars, and epic space battles were once again in fashion. Repackaged and dubbed into English to ride those coattails, Star Blazers first appeared on American screens in 1979. In the adaptation for young American audiences, Star Blazers lost many of the details that made it an adult anime—violence, language, drinking, sexualized characters, and extended historical references to World War II.

The drama and action in the first season revolve around a devastating radioactive attack made on Earth by the planet Gamilon, and the assistance the surviving humans receive from the planet Iscandar’s queen, Starsha. The people of Iscandar possess a means to eliminate the radiation and save humanity. Queen Starsha sends Earth plans for the interstellar travel capable Wave Motion Engine so humans can reach Iscandar for the proffered help.

Star Blazers's Argo, formerly the Battleship Yamato
Star Blazers’s Argo, formerly the Battleship Yamato

Humans, being the resourceful creatures they are, raise the sunken battleship Yamato (an important ship in the Japanese Imperial Navy during WWII, sunk in the China Sea while on a mission to defend Okinawa), rename it Argo, and refit it into a spacefaring vessel powered by the alien engine.

An aside: Just as the ship’s name was changed when the series was translated into English, character names were adapted as well. As with many imported anime shows, they have a hyper-literal, state-the-obvious style to them. Our heroes are Captain Avatar, Derek Wildstar, Mark Venture, Nova, Eager, and Dash—you can feel the bravery in those names. Medical staff and robots are, unironically, Dr. Sane and IQ-9. And the villains are the unsubtle and threatening Generals Krypt, Talan, Bane, and Scorch. With anime names, you always know where a character stands.

By the second season Earth has been saved from the original threat by the alien technology, but a new variety of cosmic bad guys want to conquer our planet. In the third and final season, Earth gets caught up in a war between two different galactic powers who accidently trigger the impending explosion of our sun, unless the captain and crew of the Argo can stop it. And as far as the American version of the original series went, that was that.

There was still strong interest in the franchise after its original runs. In the 1980s and 1990s there were several comic book adaptations of Star Blazers in America, as well as a web comic. Disney actually optioned the rights to Star Blazers in the 1990s with an eye toward a live-action movie. There was still talk of it from Disney as recently as 2006, but nothing has come of it here. The Japanese, however, released a live-action version in 2010. The Japanese also remade the original show’s first season as the animated Space Battleship Yamato 2199 in 2012 (with more episodes anticipated), with an American release following in 2014 as Star Blazers 2199. The remade series was further condensed into a theatrical film which was released for both Japanese and American audiences in 2014.

A few of the many Star Blazers characters
A few of the many Star Blazers characters

I discovered Star Blazers at a critical time in my development. I had only recently begun reading (and re-reading) The Hobbit, The Chronicles of Narnia, and John Christopher’s Tripods trilogy, and faithfully watching Battle of the Planets. I was eager for more in the same vein, be it book or television. I was captivated by Star Blazer’s Starsha, Queen of Iscandar, her sister Princess Astra, and their saga—they were different than the other female characters I had bumped into thus far. The style, the plot, and the characters of this show all helped define anime for me, as well as helped shape my taste in fantasy and science fiction.  They were, and are, my Star Blazers.

E.A. Ruppert contributes book and media reviews for NerdGoblin.com.  Thanks for checking this out. To keep up with the latest NerdGoblin developments, please like us on Facebook , follow us on Twitter, and sign up for the NerdGoblin Newsletter.

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Elric by Michael Whelan
Elric by Michael Whelan

Elric of Melniboné and his terrible sword Stormbringer made their first appearance in  Michael Moorcock’s  elaborate and fluid multiverse in 1961. Elric is rather a popular figure in popular culture, with the legendary albino prince showing up in comics and RPGs, songs, TV episodes, and tribute stories. Michael Moorcock’s own Elric tales are still being written, and are still being collected in various configurations with his older works. The character has always had a quality that seizes and inspires the imagination, and makes him a keystone of fantasy literature.

With so much Elric material to work with, I will only concern this overview with the original six novels of The Elric Saga as they were presented in 1984’s The Elric Saga Omnibus Part One (Elric of Melniboné, The Sailor on the Seas of Fate, The Weird of the White Wolf) and Part Two  (The Vanishing Tower, The Bane of the Black Sword, Stormbringer). The omnibus editions are based on the canonical DAW editions of 1977, which gathered the existing stories into six volumes in roughly internal chronological order. The first book of the saga, 1972’s Elric of Melniboné, is a full novel in itself, while the last book, Stormbringer, actually collects several novellas first serialized in 1965.

Although Elric of Melniboné first began adventuring in novellas over a decade earlier, in the first novel of the series Moorcock introduces Elric anew, and with much drama: “It is the colour of a bleached skull, his flesh; and the long hair which flows below his shoulders is milk-white. From the tapering, beautiful head stare two slanting eyes, crimson and moody, and from the loose sleeves of his yellow gown emerge two slender hands, also the colour of bone” (7, I). His melancholy and discontent are quickly established, as well as his initial main adversary. Within a few pages the stage is set for adventure, although we are made to wait for the appearance of Elric’s fabled sword: “’Stormbringer,’ he said. And then he felt afraid. It was suddenly as if he had been born again and that this runesword had been born with him. It was as if they had never been separate” (120, I).

Elric by Robert Gould
Elric by Robert Gould

Elric of Melniboné stands as one of the great antiheroes of epic fantasy, a cursed emperor who destroys his own kingdom and wanders the world on a fate-driven quest even he is unable to clearly define. From the first, Moorcock placed Elric in the midst of the unending struggle for Cosmic Balance between the Lords of Law and the Lords of Chaos, burdening him with the particular doom of being something more than mortal. Elric is also probably the most widely-known incarnation of the multidimensional Eternal Champion, whose mythology provides Moorcock a unifying theme for most of his work. But Elric is also in many ways the ultimate murder hobo, leaping from adventure to adventure as the opportunities present themselves, with his uneven allegiance to Chaos and his battle cry of, “Blood and souls for my lord Arioch!”

That devil-may-care, full-steam-ahead quality to the stories may explain why The Elric Saga has been an inspiration to uncounted other authors, including Gary Gygax as he developed Dungeons and Dragons. The settings and set-ups from the Elric novels all seem terribly familiar to anyone who has ever played D&D. For example, there is the classic location for parties to form–“Elric was looking for news and he knew that if he found it anywhere it would be in the taverns” (29, II), and the equally classic call to adventure, spoken by a magical damsel in distress–“Theleb K’aarna has joined forces with Prince Umbda, Lord of the Kelmain Hosts. Their plan is to conquer Lormyr and, ultimately, the entire Southern world!” (32, II). And with their clearly defined alignments of Law and Chaos, Moorcock’s gods were even incorporated into the early Dungeons and Dragons pantheon in the first edition of Dieties and Demigods.

Elric and Stormbringer, by Robert Gould
Elric and Stormbringer, by Robert Gould

Since Moorcock famously despises all things Tolkien, it is no shock that Elric is the antithesis of any of Tolkien’s most noble heroes. At heart, Elric is still a self-absorbed Melnibonéan, although he is slightly less selfish than the rest of his kind. Elric is motivated first and foremost by his own desires, despite his brooding over the damage they cause: “’My own instincts war against the traditions of my race.’ Elric drew a deep, melancholy breath. ‘I go where danger is because I think that an answer might lie there—some reason for all this tragedy and paradox. Yet I know I shall never find it’” (229, I). Although his fated role in keeping a cosmic balance is referenced often by his patron god, Lord Arioch, that purpose runs in the background of Elric’s own amorphous quest for meaning for the earlier part of the saga: ‘The Lords of Law and Chaos now govern our lives. But is there some being greater than them?” (315, I). However, the purpose fate has for Elric slowly overtakes his self-absorption and forces him slowly into a tragic, tainted heroism.

With Moorcock one of the founders of New Wave science fiction, The Elric Saga has the movement’s unmistakable flavour. The language is studiedly formal, a little stilted, and with much of the same style of descriptive repetition Lord Dunsanay used with great success. Moorcock creates a sly, dreamy effect that hints at humor without actually crossing the line. He is also wildly inventive, the imagery almost psychedelic with clouds and swirling colors and multidimensional awarenesses that anchor the stories in their swinging-sixties origins. But while the prose is often purple and melodramatic, it is never parody:

            “Elric had been for skirting Old Hrolmar and riding on towards Tanelorn, where they had decided to go, but Moonglum had argued reasonably that they would need better horses  and more food and equipment for the long ride across the Vilmirian and Ilmiorian plains to the edge of the Sighing Desert, where mysterious Tanelorn was situated. So Elric had at last agreed, though, after his encounter with Myshella and his witnessing the destruction of the Noose of Flesh, he had become weary and craved for the peace which Tanelorn offered.” (60, II)

While the writing is often playful and always clever, it is never smug. For all the fantastic characters and unlikely, whirlwind action, Moorcock takes his work seriously and crafts an artful and compelling epic that lures the reader into a world far deeper than first seems. Moorcock used his famous method for writing a book in three days for his Elric novels, and the fingerprints of it are all over it. Moorcock keeps the action constantly moving forward with a new event occurring every few pages. He drops references and mysteries in the novels that may or may not be answered but keep things rolling on.  And he always has extraordinary images and outrageously named characters, objects, and places to throw into the action as the occasion arises–the Marsh of Mists, Orunlu the Keeper, the City of Screaming Statues, Rackhir the Red Archer, Dyvim Tvar, and other similar creations are littered throughout, building up a strange, vivid world to adventure in. But somehow the reliance on structure and plot devices results in something much greater than the sum of its many moving parts.

So, gaudy and action-driven with its own peculiar grandeur, The Elric Saga fits together in a surprisingly smooth clockwork of a tale. Moorcock may work with deep themes, but he doesn’t go for the studied gravitas of his nemesis, Tolkien, or the ponderous self-importance found in any number of fantasy sagas. Elric is serious, Elric is cursed, but Elric is also very, very interesting. It draws you in. It makes you care. If you haven’t read it from the source, yet, you need to go on that adventure.

E.A. Ruppert contributes book and media reviews for NerdGoblin.com.  Thanks for checking this out. To keep up with the latest NerdGoblin developments, please like us on Facebook , follow us on Twitter, and sign up for the NerdGoblin Newsletter.

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Deadpool is finally here!
Deadpool is finally here!

Short version: Deadpool was &$#!!@ amazing. From the initial strains of “Angel of the Morning” by Juice Newton to the final notes of “Careless Whispers” by Wham!, Deadpool met, exceeded, and blew away any expectations I had. Hyperbole, perhaps, but when the opening credits list a Douchebag, a Hot Chick, a British bad-guy, and a CGI Character as producer and various cast, you know you are going somewhere where you had better hold on.

In brief, this is the story of how dishonorably-discharged Special Forces operative and sleazy mercenary Wade Wilson accidently becomes the super-powered, super-healing Deadpool because of an ill-advised and illicit attempt to cure his cancer. He comes out with his sense of humor not only intact, but turbocharged. It pairs nicely with his desire for vengeance on the man who messed him up. Hilarity and mad action ensue.

Decapitations, slow motion chaos, exploding heads, car crashes, collapsing dry docked battleships, Hello Kitty and ill-used unicorns abound. There is no down time. I will need to see Deadpool at least twice more to fully absorb the overwhelming tide of snarky references and asides splashed around with depraved indifference for any softer sensibilities. The fourth-wall wasn’t just broken. It was functionally removed, since Deadpool narrated his story directly to the audience. That conceit, beautifully written, provided an immediate connection to the character that the vast majority of comic book movies lack.

While Deadpool was vigorously unpredictable, one part of the story was unexpected. Tucked in the middle of the carnage and joyfully unhinged vulgarity was an honest emotional core. Wade’s and Vanessa’s reactions to his diagnosis of metastasized, terminal cancer and their attempts to deal with it were true, and painfully real. Of everything in this movie, those few scenes were not inflated or romanticized and were able to provide an underlying strength to the rest of the orgy of violence.

Did I mention that this movie was &$#!!@ amazing?

Colossus and Negasonic Teenage Warhead represent the X-Men connection (because, as was often mentioned, budget constraints prevented anyone else from being there) and do their level best to talk Deadpool into becoming a hero. As X-Men related spin-offs go, Deadpool is a remarkably unlikely candidate. He is profane and irreverent in a way the X-Men (and superheroes in general) have never been. It’s almost like they are worried about not being noble and impressive enough, or something. But our Deadpool gives no f’s. He is mayhem in red spandex, to hide the bloodstains. Fortunately for everyone, he’s also willing to consider the hero thing.

The cast was, of course, perfect. Ryan Reynolds was a comedic whirlwind as Deadpool. Morena Baccarin matched him as his girlfriend, Vanessa. Ed Skrein was suitably wicked as Deadpool’s nemesis Francis, with Gina Carano as his sidekick Angel. Rounding out the main cast were Brianna Hildebrand as Negasonic Teenage Warhead, Stefan Kapičić as Colossus, Leslie Uggams as Blind Al (Deadpool’s formerly-coke-headed roommate), and Karan Soni as Dopinder, the easily-influenced cabbie. And of course Stan Lee had his cameo. It wouldn’t be a Marvel movie without him.

It was incredibly refreshing to have a bad-ass character be so funny. Against the looming background of the Marvel Universe and the upcoming Captain America: Civil War, it’s good to laugh. Even in those films that display a good sense of humor, like Iron Man and The Avengers, there is an almost insufferable seriousness and self-importance. These are comic book super hero movies. They aren’t supposed to be important; they’re supposed to be fun.

And Deadpool is incredibly fun. It is shockingly inappropriate and relentlessly, effortlessly funny. There were plenty of scenes that made me laugh so hard I snorted. There were some so stunningly rude that I laughed too hard to breathe. Trimming this back to a PG-13 would have been a bad, bad mistake.

To sum it up: going in, I had very high hopes for Deadpool after an inescapable and happily well-done media blitz running up to the movie’s release. The anticipation definitely had a payoff. It was amazing– amazing and filthy and so much fun. Deadpool, FTW.

 

Yay, Deadpool!
Yay, Deadpool!

E.A. Ruppert contributes book and media reviews for NerdGoblin.com.  Thanks for checking this out. To keep up with the latest NerdGoblin developments, please like us on Facebook , follow us on Twitter, and sign up for the NerdGoblin Newsletter.

And as always, please share your thoughts and opinions in the comments section!

The 1970’s science fiction/action anime Battle of the Planets was my first coherent experience with Japanese animation, and it left a long-lasting impression. I still get a little excited about Mark, Jason, Princess, Keyop, and Tiny! The Fiery Phoenix! Chief Anderson! Seven-Zark-7! And Zoltar, wonderful, evil, lipsticked Zoltar from the planet Spectra! Battle of the Planets is sometimes credited with introducing anime to the West, but when I first laid eyes on it I wasn’t thinking about the big cultural picture—I was only a kid. Instead, I made sure I was home in front of a TV, any TV, every single day when my show came on. It was the most amazing thing I’d ever seen.

G-Force, from Battle of the Planets
G-Force, from Battle of the Planets. Pretty darn amazing.

Battle of the Planets was the first of several adaptations of the Gatchaman material and is probably the best known. It was first broadcast in the United States in 1978, and was also adapted and dubbed for multiple other markets, including the Dutch, French, Italian, Spanish, Greek, Polish, and the Middle East.

The company responsible for Battle of the Planets’s Americanization, Sandy Frank Film Syndication, invested quite a bit of money and talent into their production and generated two seasons’ worth of episodes from the source material. In this adaptation, primary characters were voiced by the golden-toned Casey Kasem, Ronnie Schell, The Jetson’s Janet Waldo, Mr. Ed’s Alan Young, Alan Dinehart, and Keye Luke. Additional animation sequences were provided by Gallerie International Films, Ltd.

As was to be expected, the original series, Science Ninja Team Gatchaman, was heavily edited for juvenile American audiences when Sandy Frank set about repackaging it. Since the Gatchaman episodes were not translated in their original order, Battle of the Planets lacked quite a bit of the original’s continuity as rewrites to create continuity occurred.

Battle of the Planet's Fiery Phoenix
Battle of the Planet’s Fiery Phoenix

Other edits created different continuity issues. In the interest of child-friendly programming, storylines were altered and on-screen deaths were edited out and the vaguely R2D2-ish robot 7-Zark-7, his robotic dog 1-Rover-1, and his disembodied love-interest Susan, were all added as filler and to provide explanations for what was obviously cut from the Gatchaman originals. New, animated stock footage of the Phoenix and outer space was also used to fill in blanks left by heavy editing.

In addition to the changes to the content, there were plenty of changes to the characters. Some were simple name changes– Spectra became the enemy planet rather than Galactor. The original Japanese character names were Anglicized to Mark, Jason, Princess, Keyop, and Tiny, and reference to their bird identities was dropped. Science Ninja Team became G-Force, and all the G-Force team members were orphaned, with the exception of Keyop—he became a genetically-engineered clone. Their nemesis, Zoltar, though, went through the most dramatic alteration. Originally, the character was a complex fusion of a male and female set of twins who alternated sexes at will. This was obviously not going to fly for U.S. audiences in the seventies, so Zoltar was remade as a somewhat androgenous man, and his female aspects spun off into minor female characters in their own rights. Even with the changes, there was still plenty of fast explaining to do in the later episodes.

Battle of the Planet's ambiguous bad guy, Zoltar
Battle of the Planet’s ambiguous bad guy, Zoltar

Alas, like all good things, Battle of the Planets eventually ended. Despite broad international syndication, only two seasons of the edited and redubbed Battle of the Planets were produced and aired. Sandy Frank had planned a number of first-run, original episodes but they were never completed. Alternative versions of some episodes were made but never aired.

Interest in the show continued sporadically if not productively over the next couple of decades. In other media, Gold Key produced a short-lived comic book adaptation of the show in 1979, and Top Cow issued their unsuccessful comic series intermittently from 2002 through 2004. Sandy Frank had also hoped to create a new version of Battle of the Planets in 2004 using the episodes of Gatchaman that had been left out of the original series adaptation, but cost and casting were issues and the project was scrapped.

The appeal of G-Force is still exists, though. There are currently rumours that Nelvana (who has done some other work of interest I mentioned here) plans to release a reboot of Battle of the Planets in 2017.  I know I wouldn’t say no to another go-round, even with 7-Zark-7.

E.A. Ruppert contributes book and media reviews for NerdGoblin.com.  Thanks for checking this out. To keep up with the latest NerdGoblin developments, please like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, and sign up for the NerdGoblin Newsletter.

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Fritz Leiber at work
Fritz Leiber at work

The fantasy, science fiction, and horror author Fritz Leiber is a man whose creations inspired generations of RPGs and their players. Even if you don’t know his name, you know his work. He was close enough to Gary Gygax and company to contribute an article to the very first issue of The Dragon magazine. If you play any D&D-style RPG at all, you’ve brushed up against his creations. I highly recommend experiencing them in their original form.

***

Fritz Leiber was born to a pair of Shakespearean actors, and studied philosophy and theology before trying his hand as a college professor for a while. He worked in aircraft production during World War II. After the war he became a staff writer for an encyclopedia and then served on the staff of Science Digest before launching his fiction career in earnest. Although he produced a substantial number of works considered “science fiction,” Leiber himself admitted that much of that body was rewritten fantasy, repackaged to escape the post-war contraction of the fantasy market.

Leiber’s strongest early influences were Lovecraft (particularly the Cthulhu Mythos, which inspired a novella and multiple stories) and his close friend, Harry Otto Fischer. Beginning in 1934, Leiber and Fischer began imagining a loosely-connected saga centered on the barbarian Fafhrd (modelled on Leiber) and the thief, the Gray Mouser (after Fischer).

In 1937, well before Leiber had written the first story, Leiber and Fischer also developed a wargame for themselves set within the world they had created. In 1976 they turned their personal game into a board game called Lankhmar for TSR. TSR also licensed Leiber’s mythos for use in its Dieties and Demigods supplement for Dungeons and Dragons. The tropes developed within the canon of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser stories were a huge influence on the game.

Fritz Leiber's Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser star in Swords and Deviltry
Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser star in Swords and Deviltry

Leiber is credited with coining the term “sword and sorcery” to describe his richly imagined Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser series and other works in its style. The characters were introduced in 1939 in Unkown magazine, a title edited by the influential John W. Campbell. This also marked Leiber’s first professional sale. Campbell also bought Leiber’s first two novels, serializing Conjure Wife in Unknown and Gather, Darkness in Astounding.

Although Leiber wrote many significant stories and novellas over his long career (some of which are listed below), his most enduring contributions are Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser and their adventures in Lankhmar and beyond. Leiber’s writing could be weighty, but he injected his stories with dark humor and originated many of the conventions now commonly recognized as the sword and sorcery subgenre.

While Leiber’s characters did not become as instantly recognized by name as Conan or Cthulhu, they could not be ignored, either. Robin Wayne Bailey (founder of the Science Fiction Hall of Fame) continued their legend by writing an additional Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser novel in 1998, with the promise of another. Joanna Russ (producer of brawny feminist fantasy and science fiction) was inspired by Leiber’s characters and saw her own adventurer, Alyx, appear in two of their stories. The late Terry Pratchett cheerfully modeled his city Ankh-Morpork and characters the Weasel and Bravd on Leiber’s creations.

As an aside to his fiction Leiber also wrote a small amount of literary criticism, most of which was collected in Fafhrd and Me (1990). This work includes a number of essays on Lovecraft, who was hugely influential on Leiber’s writing and who inspired several stories set within the general Lovecraft Mythos. Unlike many other authors working in the Golden Age of science fiction, Leiber wrote very little by way of nonfiction, with his interests and talents better aligned with the philosophy-inflected fantasy he favored. The vast majority of Leiber’s body of work was short fiction, with some of his modern-day horror stories inspiring, according to the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, the emerging sub-genre of “urban fantasy.”

Fritz Leiber's Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, again, in Swords and Ice Magic
Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, again, in Swords and Ice Magic

While Leiber would occasionally drop out of sight for varying lengths of time, he did not labor in obscurity. He was a founding member of the Swordsmen and Sorcerer’s Guild of America with such notables as Lin Carter, C.L. Moore, L. Sprague de Camp and Andre Norton, among others. Leiber won six Hugo Awards, four Nebulas, three World Fantasy Awards, and two British Fantasy Awards. Even in the years he did not win, Leiber was a frequent, sometimes multiple, nominee. Leiber was also named Gandalf Grand Master and SFWA Grand Master, and received Lifetime Achievement Awards from the Horror Writers Association and at the World Fantasy Convention. He was posthumously inducted into the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame in 2001. His work was of such influence that he continued to receive nominations for his story collections a decade after his death.

***

If you have made it this far, you probably would like to read more. To get you started, the following is an extremely abbreviated bibliography of Leiber’s collections, novels, and stand-alone short stories:

 

 

Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser Collections:

Swords and Deviltry (1970).

Swords Against Death (1970)

Swords in the Mist (1968)

The Swords of Lankhmar (1968)

Swords and Ice Magic (1977)

The Knight and Knave of Swords (1988)

Novels/ Collections

Gather, Darkness! (1943), a post-apocalypse theocracy where science is witchcraft

The Dealings of Daniel Kesserich (1997), a rediscovered Lovecraftian novella from 1936

The Best of Fritz Leiber (1974), which collects twenty-two of his many short stories

Short stories

“Smoke Ghost”, where urban pollution is the monster

“The Girl with the Hungry Eyes” is a creepy reimagining of the vampire

“Space-Time for Springers” features a genius kitten as its hero, and is one of my favorite stories, ever

“To Arkham and the Stars”, a Cthulhu Mythos story

“Gonna Roll the Bones”, a winner of both the Hugo and Nebula awards

“Ill Met in Lankhmar”, a classic Fafhrd and Gray Mouser story

If you want to dive into Leiber’s works, many of them are available here and here. Sometimes, we have to look behind us to see how we got to where we are—and looking back at Fritz Leiber gives us a very good idea.

 

E.A. Ruppert contributes book and media reviews for NerdGoblin.com.  Thanks for checking this out. To keep up with the latest NerdGoblin developments, please like us on Facebook , follow us on Twitter, and sign up for the NerdGoblin Newsletter.

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