Gamebook store

Thursday, 22 January 2015

Swords and old science

A little way along from Ashplants, where I bought magnesium ribbon, and the newsagent’s where I got the latest Marvel comics, was a second-hand bookshop in the proper old style. Two long rooms – dirty, musty, dark. Trestles covered in books, many of which could have done with a dusting of antifungal powder before you touched them. It’s not there now. You’d have to set your Tardis for Woking in the late 1960s.

I got my copy of Amazing Spider-Man #12 in that second-hand bookshop. It was tatty and torn, more like a relic of Victorian times than the three-year-old comic I now know it to have been. But who cares? It was Lee and Ditko, and this was the issue in which Spidey was “Unmasked by Doctor Octopus!” In colour. ‘Nuff said.

It was also where I discovered science fantasy, in the form of Edward Powys Bradbury’s Mars books. Airships and swordplay meet blasters and psionic aliens. It was a Damascene moment, like when I first learned that dinosaurs had actually walked the Earth. A thing that would have been cool enough if merely imaginary turned out to be honest-to-gosh real.

Memory plays tricks, so probably I didn’t cotton on that science fantasy was an actual genre until I came across a second instance of it: L Sprague de Camp’s A Planet Called Krishna. John Carter and Thongor of Lemuria were still in my future then, but the seed had been planted that would inevitably make me an aficionado of the world of Tekumel ten years later.

What reminded me of all this was clearing out my mum’s things and finding an old exercise book that she had kept from my primary school days. It’s an interesting little snapshot of the past. I talk about dinosaurs, comic books, the coming decimalization, everyday events, and the RAF. There are reviews of You Only Live Twice, The Lair of the White Worm – the book, that is – and The Great Ghidrah. (The last of those, according to Wiki, was released as Invasion of Astro Monster but I was there and I can tell you what I saw.)

And there’s a story set on de Camp’s world of Krishna. It wasn’t my first stab at fiction – the year before I’d begun a sequel to Dracula, which opened with Jonathan’s and Mina’s grandson arriving at Dublin airport. A lost classic, obviously. The Krishna story came about because we had a student teacher for English lessons who encouraged us to write a story every Monday morning. I began my Krishna serial and I remember the teacher was concerned because he thought he was going to leave without reading the last instalment, but then he got an extra week at the school and signed off with “Very good indeed, +1”. After that it was goodbye to fiction as our regular teacher just wanted us to describe what we did over the weekends. I wish I could remember the student teacher’s name. He was the only one of them worth a damn at that primary school.

Anyway, people are always on at me to write like I did twenty years ago, so from Saturday I’ll run the reductio ad absurdum of that: my writing at age ten. The Fabled Lands started there, folks. Amazing as it seems in this age of trigger warnings and young people who get traumatized if you so much as challenge their dearest assumptions, the level of bloodthirstiness in the story was pretty typical of ten-year-old boys in the 1960s and nobody sent us for counselling because of it. When you read the story you may decide they should have.


  1. They might be even bigger fans of Dave Morris aged 10 and a half, the Mozart of the Interactive Fiction/Roleplaying/Computer Game/Blogging World! Edward P Bradbury was great fun. I remember reading an interview with Mr Bradbury where he was recounting letters from a fan who was a nun :)

    1. I think he was probably talking about Behold The Man rather than the Michael Kane novels :)

      "The Southern fundamentalists weren't too happy with it and from them came the death-threats. If they included an address with their threat I would apologise for the book not being to their taste and sendi them a dollar (the price of the book, plus postage, in paperback) as seemed right and proper given the customer's extreme dissatisfaction. But I also had fan mail from nuns and priests and other persons of the cloth, so clearly many Christian intellectuals understood the book's intention and its discussion."

    2. It was an interesting interview, as she was a big EPB fan, and she suggested MM. She wrote back saying that she liked MM too... to which EPB revealed the SHOCKING TRUTH!

      I rather liked Behold the Man. It was interesting. The treatment of JC in Riverworld was interesting too... Organised religion (rather than Messiahs) gets interesting in the Safehold books by David Weber.

    3. Must admit I've never read any of those. I suppose I should before the blasphemy laws are reinstated!

    4. The blasphemy laws may be reinstated? Not in Ireland, at least. They'd have to be dropped, first:

    5. Bloodthirstiness? I think that would be a given for that age. My own experience is that I started off at age 6 drawing por*** CENSORED BY ORDER OF CHIEF JUDGE MCGRUDER*** so that's why modern depictions of Wonder Woman on the Deviant Art website brings back memories.

      I fondly recall being inspired to write a series of "The Way of the Dragon" (total rip-off of "The Way of the Tiger") at age 9 using old exercise books. A friend subsequently requested me to write an original fanfic gamebook based on Macross (also self-illustrated). The funny thing about 1987-88 Singapore back then was that Macross was televised and dubbed in Mandarin, and I could understand nothing. Yet for some strange reason I wrote the name of the hero as "Rick Hunter". Fours years later I discovered that the same character in the American re-scripted version was named "Rick Hunter".

      Looking back, the only literature that ever had any profound impact on my English would be by Tolkien and Morris. Specifically, The Lord of the Rings trilogy and the Blood Sword series. In my 30 years of reading gamebooks, the Blood Sword series remains my personal recommended best... non pareil. They are also the ONLY gamebooks ever written to feature a solo-team option.

    6. Paul - thanks for the heads up. Dammit, I was considering Eire as a good place to move to if the UK decides to pull out of Europe and revert to troglodytism. At least the Catholic church recognizes evolution and the Big Bang, so maybe I can live with that. Otherwise it's New York here I come.

      Godwin - it's nice to be thought of as literature. And I had no inkling of the existence of Wonder Woman pics on Deviant Art. The mind boggles...

    7. Funny thing, literature... Tolkien can be considered as part of modern literature in schools nowadays, but 20 years ago, my English teachers would write him off completely. My book reviews were chock full of gamebook authors, the "gaming" aspects surreptitiously written into the summary. I remember one time being quizzed for favourite authors and the teacher was expecting Hemmingway, Maugham, Poe, or at least Dahl... and I rattled off Smith, Thomson, Morris, Jackson, Livingstone, etc. That was a hoot...

    8. I know what that's like. My primary school teacher complained that I only read fantasy and science fiction, and that pretty much continued until I was old enough to want to impress girlfriends with a knowledge of real literature. Nowadays it's almost the reverse. I read next to no fantasy/SF because it's too often not worth it (Sturgeon's Law) with the result that I only just read Gormenghast last year and owned a copy of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell for 18 months before I got around to it. Nowadays I am much more likely to read Hemingway and Maugham, but I won't rule out getting around to Tolkien at some point.

  2. Your Dracula sequel sounds at least as tantalising as Dracula 2000. Which stars Gerard Butler, Christopher Plummer and Johnny Lee Miller (and also co-stars Jeri Ryan and Nathan Fillion). And, to tie it into the comments, it has an appearance by Jesus Christ (as a charcter, not an actor).

    Of course, then I watched the film and it is not as good as you might hope.

    No, it's worse than that.