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Thursday, October 15, 2015

GUEST BLOGGER: Fantasy Book Critic Welcomes Howard Andrew Jones - Author of Beyond the Pool of Stars




Fantasy Book Critic is excited to welcome Howard Andrew Jones to our blog as guest blogger for today. Howard Andrew Jones is the author of several sci-fi/fantasy novels, including his most recent novel from the Pathfinder series - Beyond the Pool of Stars. Beyond the Pool of Stars was released October 6, 2015 by Tor Books.


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I’m probably not the only one who wishes Leigh Brackett had written more stories about Eric John Stark. Back in the 1950s and even into the early 1960s, Brackett was writing space opera and sword and planet tales that featured characters you could easily imagine bumping shoulders with Malcolm Reynolds and Han Solo. They’re rogues and drifters scrounging for existence out there in the space lanes or on planetary backwaters. It’s telling that Brackett was picked by Lucas to write the screenplay for The Empire Strikes Back, the first draft of which she turned over just a short while before her death. Once, not so long ago, she was widely known as the queen of space opera.

She remains one of my very favorite writers, and it saddens me that a lot of readers today have never heard of her. Partly that’s because she based a lot of her stories in a version of the solar system that’s pure fantasy, with Mars and Venus with breathable atmospheres. I’m not sure why it’s easy to pretend that there’s a parallel world where magic works somewhere but we have trouble pretending that there really are Martian canals and Venusian swamps.

I think the real reason that Brackett’s been forgotten, though, is that she didn’t write too many continuing characters. Stark is the only one I’m aware of, and he pops up in three novellas and a trilogy of short novels, that, combined, are shorter than a single modern epic fantasy novel. As you might expect from older fiction, there are some dated concepts and purple prose, but there’s also grand adventure and soaring prose. As her husband, the late, great writer Edmund Hamilton once wrote: “This gal can write!” For sheer invention and action chops, and complex characters – at least for an adventure story – she has few equals.

I particularly loved the way she brought her vision of Mars to life, a dying world, a dusty, faded ruby alive with ancient secrets and horrors. She spent less time on her imaginary Venus, but her astonishing imagination was in full swing there as well, and in “Enchantress of Venus” she took Stark to the remote Sea of Morning Opals, a strange gaseous waste on the planet buoyant enough to sail upon, where humans might breathe freely when they dove through the glowing mists.

That story, and its sea, haunted me for years after, and one of my early novels was inspired by her wondrous descriptions. When I sat down to draft Beyond the Pool of Stars I turned again to her in inspiration, at least in part, for the characters I used were based on those old characters I’d created for my world spanning sea of mist in that unsold novel. In Beyond the Pool of Stars my heroes dive in regular waters, but they’re still searching for antiquities and contending with ancient horrors.

Brackett was ahead of her time in a lot of ways, one of which was that she always described Stark as a black man, even though illustrators usually depicted him as white. It’s no longer quite as shocking to have a person of color on a cover, but I’m still pleased that there’s no effort to conceal or disguise my main character’s appearance on the cover of Beyond the Pool of Stars.

With it’s strange vistas, lost city, and dread secrets, Beyond the Pool of Stars has a lot in common with my favorite Brackett works, and it’s no small wonder, because I wanted to evoke some of the same joy in readers I encounter whenever I revisit one of her stories.

I like to imagine she would have enjoyed reading it.

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Howard Andrew Jones is the critically acclaimed author of The Desert of Souls, The Bones of the Old Ones, and Pathfinder novels Plague of Shadows, Stalking the Beast and the hot off the presses Beyond the Pool of Stars. A former Black Gate Editor, he also assembled and edited 8 collections of historical fiction writer Harold Lamb’s work for the University of Nebraska Press. He can be found lurking at www.howardandrewjones.com. Follow him on Twitter @howardandrewjon


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