Tag Archives: pulp

Baroque Fantasy?

My view of creativity is very much in agreement with the thought that great ideas come from filling a mind with lots of fascinating concepts and evocative images and letting them ferment until one day something new comes growing out of the compost heap. A considerable amount of my creative “work” consists of looking for more ideas to add to my heap by reading lots of stuff remotely related to what I am working on (professionals call it “researching”) and pondering of what use they could be to me. It’s totally not slacking!

Morrowind

One thought that has occupied my recently is that many of the fantasy worlds I find highly inspiring for the Ancient Lands seem to share some common features or at least aesthetic. The two biggest influences are Morrowind and Planescape, and I know that the former was directly inspired by Glorantha. And I was actually surprised that Glorantha came into existance completely independently from Tekumel. I had assumed that there’s a direct link between the two, but both appeared in the world of fantasy games in 1974/1975, the very dawning days of RPGs. I’ve been wondering if there’s a name for the style shared by these worlds but it doesn’t seem to be the case.

Planescape

Looking further into it I also remembered additional settings that seem to share at least some similarity. There’s the Young Kingdoms from Michael Moorcock’s Elric stories, Dark Sun, and what I’ve seen also the RPGs Talislanta and Exalted. But it might all have started with Clark Ashton Smith’s proto-Sword & Sorcery tales set in Hyperborea and Zothique (though I admit only having read the former).

Glorantha

One term I’ve often seen to describe both Smith’s stories and Barker’s Tekumel is baroque. Which is described as an “artistic style which used exaggerated motion and clear, easily interpreted detail to produce drama, tension, exuberance, and grandeur in sculpture, painting, architecture, literature, dance, theater, and music” or “characterized by grotesqueness, extravagance, complexity, or flamboyance”. Yeah, that seems to about fit.

Tekumel

What all these settings have in common is that they are clearly not an imagined ancient history of Earth, but set in worlds that are only distantly “earthlike” in having mountains, forests, and seas and populated by cultures and creatures that have no obvious earthly counterparts. (Glorantha and the non-Morrowind parts of The Elder Scrolls aren’t sticking too close to that.) It’s something you can also find in Star Wars that adds spaceships and lasers to the mix but otherwise plays it perfectly straight. This is what sets them apart from the Tolkienian mainstream but also Howard’s Hyborian Age, which tend to be close to alternate histories with magic set on Earths with the coasts and rivers redrawn.

Dark Sun

So: Baroque Fantasy?

It’s not a term that has really been used so far, but I think it is definitly a thing that exist and has regularly shown its face through the last 40 years, often to very high praise. (I’ve found it used once, for exactly the same idea.) When you say baroque it comes with the connotation of “elaborate” and “complex”, and often also “confusing”. But I don’t think that it’s really necessary to have worlds with giant piles of information to evoke this aesthetic. Glorantha and The Elder Scrolls are massive beasts of settings, I’ve heard Tekumel is not very accessible either, and fully grasping Planescape means a lot of reading. (Though if you can get your hands on the box sets, the later is not too difficult to understand.) Hyperborea, Elric, and Dark Sun are all kind of borderline or fringe examples, but they all make do with very little exposition. And as a player, both Morrowind and Planescape can be a total blast even when you explore them without having any clue what you’re getting into.

Elric

The key elements of the baroque that makes this term applicable to this style of fantasy are extravagant, flamboyant, and grotesque. And I think that few people would content these qualities in the worlds I named. There is a certain downside in that baroque also is the name for a time period in European history with a distinctive architecture, music, and fashion, which don’t have anything to do with these works of 20th century fantasy. But it’s certainly a term that would be quite fitting.

Movie Review: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

When Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull came out in 2007 the oppinions I hear about it were mostly pretty bad and calling it by far the worst Indiana Jones movie and absolutely terrible, and it causing the series to be ruined forever!. So I never watched it in all the years and had no desire to ever do so. But I got the series on DVD for christmas and it had the movie included and yesterday my parents were visiting, and since we wanted to watch a movie and none of us had seen it before, we watched it. Otherwise I still wouldn’t have watched it, preferring to simply don’t know what’s in it. (I might do the same with the new Star Wars movies.)

Indiana_Jones_and_the_Kingdom_of_the_Crystal_Skul_01Right from the start some things seem to be odd. Indy aknowledges being old and mentions his father having died, which doesn’t match the ending of the previous movie. But no explanation is ever given or the events of the movie mentioned, which I found rather odd. The second scene is set in the famous warehouse from the first movie and we get a quick lool at the arc as its box is broken, but otherwise the first movie isn’t mentioned either. It’s just like “look, we made a reference to the other movies!” That’s weak. Indy starts the movie with a new sidekick, whose name I can’t even remember, which always is a very bad sign about the strength of a movies characters and dialogues. It’s never explained who he is or what his relationship with Indy is, and except for two short scenes he has no real relevance to the plot or any meaningful dialogue. The other new character is Mutt, who follows Indy around after fat moustache guy has left for a while and after his first scene has no real impact on the plot either. Later of course we meet Marion again, who is a fun character but also has just one relevant dialogue with Indy and doesn’t really contribute anything to the plot. John Hurt also plays a character who gets picked up with by Indys crew and hangs around for the rest of the plot, but after drawing a map in his first scene does not have any meaningful dialogue or impact to the plot. Indy himself is okay, but you probably can see the problem here. Indy could have gone on this whole adventure by all by himself, or at least with only one companion to give an opportunity to explain the plot to the audience.

There are two villains in this movie. One is a Russian psychic played by Kate Blanchet, who tries to read Indys mind once but fails and then never shows any supernatural abilities for the rest of the movie at all. She keeps chasing after Indy for all of the movie but except for one scene in the middle of the movie she never catches up to him so her impact on the plot is also almost nothing. She has a henchman who commands a group of Soviet soldiers, but since he almost only speaks in Russian without subtitles and very little of that, we don’t really know anything about him. *sigh* And yes, he also does not do anything relevant for the plot. Indy has a fist fight with him, but he simply falls over ans gets pulled into a hole by a swarm of ants. It doesn’t remotely reach the fight against the random German mechanic in the first movie, which is clearly what this scene tries to allude to. At two point during the search for a lost ancient city in South America does Indy run into local tribes of Indians who menacingly sneak around with seemingly supernatura skill in the dark. But they show the Indians the skull and they back off, doing nothing at all and then disappearing while Indy explores the city.

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I freaking love Star Wars!

I don’t have any true insights to share right now. But it’s May 4th and I’ve got plenty of Star Wars art on the tumblr pages I am watching for classic pulp fantasy and sci-fi art and it got me all hyped up again. And as any semi-regular readers will know, I just love Star Wars to no end. It’s pulp entertainment at its very finest. The old trilogy manages just the perfect blend of a completely outrageous and preposterous world and plot and taking itself still completely serious without making jokes about itself. (It’s the moment when the new movies try to crack a joke that they are at their lowest.) It’s far from infantile nonsense, but instead I see it as a story that is all about emotion, with the plot being a rather secondary thing. It doesn’t make much sense, and often it’s outright silly. But it’s silly only on a rational level, when you try to explain things logically. When looked at as a story that does not work by logic but by emotion, it works perfectly.

I remember quite well when I saw Star Wars for the first time. I was 10 when we moved to another city and a few months later I went to visit one of my old friends for a weekend. My dad dropped me off at the train station where my friends mom picked me up, but before we went to his home, my friend first had to get a new toy from the store next to the train station. And it was a Star Wars toy, which didn’t mean anything to me at that point. So once we got home, he showed me all his other Star Wars stuff and it all looked and sounded really fascinating, completely different from anything I’d seen before. It wasn’t anywhere like Star Trek at all. So we got permission to watch Star Wars on video on a tiny TV in his room later that evening. That stuff was totally amazing. And the next day we also watched The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. Best weekend of my life! Fortunately, it was 1995 and in 1997 the special edition was rereleased first in theatres and then on video. And of course I got my parents and my brother to go see them and we got them on video for christmass that year. And I’ve stayed with Star Wars ever since. Watched the movies dozens of times, and played X-Wing and Tie Fighter on our first computer to complete exhaustion. My brother and I probably read all the novels that existed at the time, we played Jedi Knight, and Knights of the Old Republic, and my brother got a small stack of comics. And lot’s of posters. Actually I have to admit I don’t care for the new movies at all. I might not even go to see them on release, but unless the reviews are disastrous I’ll probably get around to watch them on DVD some day. Call me old, but I grew up on the stuff that was made in the 90s and early 2000s and that’s the only true way Star Wars is done for me. There are still gems of course. The Knights of the Old Republic comics are amazing and I even love playing The Force Unleashed, even though the story is one of the dumbest things ever written for Star Wars this side of Dark Empire. But even if I don’t really care for most of the things released in the last 10 years, I still love Star Wars and probably always.

I freaking love this stuff!

So here have probably the best movie scene of all time:

This is just the greatest stuff ever made. Sorry, Mass Effect, Ghost in the Shell, Dark Sun, and The Witcher. Star Wars is still so much more awesome.

The Ultimate Retro-Pulp Fantasy Setting

A couple of weeks ago me and a few others threw around some random ideas for the Ultimate Retro-Pulp Fantasy Setting. It didn’t get very far, but even with the little we got it’s already a really cool setting I really would like to use for a couple one-shot stories or adventures.

To begin with, we have planet with a giant moon, which is the home to amazons and dark elves, who occasionally come to raid the planet riding on giant space whales.

On the planet there are the evil serpent men and the island empire of Talantis. The Talantians also build air ships, which can fly to the moon as well. There is also the great dragon sorcerer Tyrannosaurus Hex. Hawk Men are one of the minor races that inhabit the planet. There are also giant apes and dinosaurs.

frank_frazetta_thuviamaidofmarsThe moon would be even more hardcore and dangerous and only for experienced heroes. Below the surface live the dangerous Generic Brandâ„¢ Mind Flayers.

Regarding religion, the true gods are totally weird and alien beings from a different plane of reality and beyond human comprehension. There are lots of temples in all the cities, but only the high priests really know what kind of thing they are worshipping. Gods don’t intervene and don’t reveal themselves to normal people.

Colossal stone bodies cover the landscape and are the remains of titans, who were very powerful, but not true gods. There also is no real difference between a sorcerer and a priest, their magic is all the same thing.

Based on all these things, the tech level for weapons and armor would best be Antiquity. No knights in plate armor or samurai, or anything like that. That means chainmail, dragonhide, breast plate, and boob plate.