Spits Nor Tacks

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‘Spits nor tacks’ is a phrase derived from a Muvari game in which darts are thrown at increasingly small targets. When a player gets behind in points he can attempt to steal another player’s points by striking or ‘tacking’ the other player’s dart through the feathers. Sometimes players will lick or ‘spit’ on their fingers with the idea that perhaps this will improve their grip upon the dart and allow them to throw more accurately. Because this strategy of ‘tacking’ another player’s dart is extremely difficult, and a bit of saliva on the fingertips rarely helps the throw to succeed, the phrase “spits nor tacks” evolved to indicate a pointless or meaningless thing, gesture or action.

 

Martian Telepathy

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Martian telepathy is possible only between male and female. Even so, it is prevalent only among certain tribes–the Muvari being one of them. Garvey’s ability to communicate telepathically suggests a latent ability in some born of Earth.

Among the Muvari, telepathic communication is generally reserved for use between spouses, as it usually is activated only by touch with one’s partner. There are some notable exceptions to this though, as animal shamans are known to communicate and command their animals telepathically.

Lana Dire broke the intimacy taboos of the Muvari Tribe and used telepathy to communicate with Garvey, a man who, at the time, wasn’t lawfully her husband. When Garvey released her from the stasis loop in which the Warlord Shaxia had trapped her, she found that she and her savior spoke different languages and so touched him to bridge the communication gap. This enabled them to speak and flee the torrack eunuchs who were attempting to slay them.

Her second communication was inadvertent after Garvey Dire had been poisoned in his death duel with Bray Kraz. The communication, Lana knew, had been meant for her sister Ntashia, but she had picked up on it as well.

Since she was, by virtue of Clivok’s death, technically affianced to Garvey, pending the ceremony, this was no longer taboo. The first time she had communicated with Garvey she had touched him, but the second time she had merely been within close proximity.

During their marriage, this ability to communicate without touch increased, but never to the same extent as Garvey and Ntashia, who could pass thoughts at a much greater distance.

 

 

This Week’s Reading

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This is a monstrous (50+ hours of audio listening) and quite informative overview of the good and bad of the history of the United States. In reaching the end of the book, I was struck how George W Bush comes across as a much better president than I remember. It highlights his decisive leadership in the wake of the 9-11 terrorist attacks that brought down the twin towers of New York and ends before his fiscally irresponsible 700 billion dollar bailouts of the banks.

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I’ve got a story (The Burial Mound) in this one that includes Native American gunfighter Lone Crow, the wild-haired and quick-tempered Six-Gun Susannah Johnson, and pistolero extraordinaire (how’s that for mixing languages?) Isidro Acevedo.

Of the other stories there was one that struck me as though it might feel right at home in the pages of Weird Tales (the old one). Killing of Black Bill by Joshua Gage is about jackalope fighting and has a suitably dark ending.

Chapter 5 of Dillon and the Prophecy of Fire by Derrick Ferguson:

This chapter includes a glass eye that serves as currency between our intrepid adventurer Dillon and a Cleaner who is disposing of numerous corpses for him. It also includes a mystical gemstone that possesses the beautiful Professor Ursula Van Houghton. Plenty of weirdness going on in this chapter.

 

The Sinthral

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The sinthral are a race of monstrous half-human half-spider creatures who inhabit portions of the Rift and perhaps other remote places on Mars. The legendary lost tribe of Brecknar is said to worship the spiderous sinthral and make them human sacrifices.

To the Muvari Tribe, the idea that the life of a tribal member would be esteemed at so little value is revolting. So to the Muvari, to suggest someone be made a sacrifice to the sinthral is to suggest they are utterly worthless to their tribe–an insult of paramount gravity.

Quote from Ntashia: “You weren’t invited to take part in this conversation, and I’d suggest you back off before I slit your throat and throw your carcass into the Rift as an offering to the sinthral.”

 

Taking off the Earring

Removing the Earring

The ceremonial taking off the earring generally indicates a breaking of the marriage–something rarely allowed according to Muvari Law–or the decession of a spouse, so it is a sad and solemn occasion.

In the case of a husband’s death, Muvari Law requires for the brother-in-law of the senior wife’s oldest sister to take over a family’s assets. This includes marrying the wives of the deceased man and taking over responsibility for providing for any children.

However, if both the brother-in-law and the wife of the deceased husband agree, they can solicit for a marriage of circumstance. In order to do this, the prospective wife must find an eligible male that will agree to marry her. In the case she cannot find an alternative husband, she must marry the brother-in-law. This custom is enforced because it ensures children will always be provided a family unit to watch over them.

 

Dueling Wives

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Though most Martian tribes have instituted polygamy in order to perpetuate their tribes, which generally have a disproportionate amount of females to males (usually in the range of 12 to even 17 to one females per male), polygamist marriages are not without their challenges, especially in a society where females are taught to aggressively defend the males of the tribe. This tendency toward aggression can spill over into relations between companion wives who share a husband.

Generally, the husband is responsible for mediating and settling disputes between wives, but if the husband refuses or abdicates his responsibility then one wife may challenge another to a duel. To do this, she removed the earring symbolizing her marriage and hurls it to the ground at the feet of the challenged wife.

The challenged wife may accept the duel by picking up the earring. If she does not pick up the earring she must accede to the demands of the challenging wife.

 

Reading Round Up: Blasters and Broadswords

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There’s been a fair amount of debate in various encounters about what exactly constitutes a pulp story, and a number of definitions have been floated. With acknowledgment that there are some classic exceptions or deviations here is a definition that I feel comes fairly close to the mark:

  1. Imaginative Setting or Events. If the setting is mundane there should be extraordinary events to counterbalance the normality.
  2. Action. The protagonist should take action–even if futile–to overcome the obstacles in front of him or her. Moribund introspection does not a pulp story make.
  3. Morality. The story should at the very least recognize the existence of a right and wrong–even if the protagonist is in the wrong. Or an immoral protagonist should be pitted against a greater evil.
  4. Limits. Even though, in their day, pulps were considered lurid and pushing the boundaries of good taste, they had some limits. In today’s society there is little off limits in ‘literary’ or any other fiction. I prefer the pulp I read to have some limits in offensive language and in the explicitness of the sexual content. A question I oftgen ask myself is, ‘would this story fit comfortably alongside a Robert E Howard or Edgar Rice Burroughs story as far as the explicitness of the content?’
  5. A pulp story should not mock its own tropes.
  6. Purple Prose. A story should contain vivid and evocative language as opposed to existing in a colorless vacuum of time and space.

Readers may or may not agree with what I propose makes a pulp story–and there is room to argue some points. However, given the above guidelines I have reviewed the stories within Broadswords and Blasters.

1st Story is Skin Deep by Nicolas Ozment
Plot: A couple of young warriors fall in with a lot of crusty mercs looking for comely fey-folk (ilsilke) sunning themselves on ice. They plan to capture some for wives or concubines, but the young warriors are just curious.
Action: Yes
Moral Outlook: A crusty merc tries to climb into the sleeping roll with one of the young warriors before finding the ilsilke and is conked on the skull with a stone. The young warriors defend the ilsilke against the mercs who so angry that they try to kill the ilsilke when they discover they are fat and hideous. The young warriors are rewarded with an orgy (which apparently is okay, because the ilsilke are shapeshifters and after all–beauty is only skin deep)

2nd Story: Dead Men Tell Tales by Dave D’Alessio:
Plot: A clever private eye on a space station comes across a murdered man and endeavors to hide some secret information from mobsters, but he’s battling against the handicap of Big Brother technology.
Moral Outlook: The private eye is ostensibly one of the good guys.
Action: Not slam-bang action, but the main character is an active participant in the outcome and wins out by dint of his cleverness.

3rd Story: The Executioner’s Daughter by RA Goli
Plot: An aging executioner passes along the family business to his daughter who messes up her first execution because it takes her two strokes to decapitate the victim. She redeems herself by inventing the Guillotine.
Moral Outlook: None
Action: None (unless you count beheading helpless prisoners)
Pulp?: Probably not.

4th Story: Pension Plan by Dusty Wallace
Plot: A couple of miner’s come back to a strip-mined planet that is being evacuated by the corporation that has exhausted its resources. They murder a bar full of company men in order to steal the payroll.
Moral Outlook: There’s nothing redeeming about the protagonists, but some effort is made to justify their actions by explaining they were paid ok, but not great by their employers, and their employers have mob affiliations (never mind the miners who are having their pay stolen)
Modern Pulp Sensibilities?: There are plenty of F words, jokes about alien genitalia, and graphic descriptions of said severed genitalia.
Action: Yes
Pulp?: Unfortunately, this story personifies just about everything I dislike about certain attempts at modern pulp. Protagonists you’d just as soon see die as live, unfettered profanity, etc.

Story 5: Saturday Night Science by Michael M Jones
Plot: Disabled Lesbian meets someone at a Sci-Fi Convention. Hooks up for some bondage and becomes part of an experiment that cycles her through dimensions.
Moral Outlook: The story assumes Lesbianism is acceptable.
Modern Pulp Sensibilities: Did I mention the protagonist is a lesbian?
Action: There’s not much tension.
Pulp?: It’s all played tongue-in-cheek as though they’re too cool to take the pulp tropes seriously. As a consequence there is never any real suspense.

Story 6: Skull Island by Matt Spencer

Plot: Twins with shifting camouflage skin, Ketz and Tia, encounter a scantily clad girl with serpentine tattoos. She stirs Ketz’s lust and he gives chase. They lose her. Then an old but ageless woman tells her story about her youthful encounter with the people of this other tribe.
Action: Not much but the initial chase
Moral Outlook: None, and so the reader has no investment in the protagonists.
Modern Pulp Sensibilities: Tons of F-words and explicit sexual references
Pulp?: Far too explicit to be pulp and not enough action–though there might be some to come. The story is to be continued. There’s some good writing in here, but the story is undermined and destroyed by the explicit content.

Story 7: The Waters So Dark by Josh Reynolds

Plot: A holy warrior, at the behest of the Pope, hunts down a heretic who summons a fiend from the silty depths of the sea.
Moral Outlook: The hero is doing God’s work
Action: Yes!
Modern Pulp Sensibilities: This doesn’t really have modern pulp sensibilities, which I think is a good thing. It’s more like a cross between Robert E Howard and HP Lovecraft.
Pulp?: Yes!

Story 8: Thicker than Water by Rob Francis

Plot: An interrogator for the tyrannical Red Duke is horrified to discover he is interrogating his own brother, who has plotted against the regime.

Moral Outlook: The protagonist starts out on the wrong side and then shifts to the right side, but mostly out of the desire for self-preservation.

Action: Yes.

Modern Pulp Sensibilities: Unfortunately, this means unnecessary profanity in the form of more F-words. Often, I find, that modern sensibilities translates into no boundaries when it comes to profanity or sexual content.

Pulp: Of a sort. This is actually a pretty good story, despite the profanity, but doesn’t quite fit the classic mold.

Joel Jenkins
-Author of Weird Action and Adventure