East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

Worldbuilding, planetary romance and a reading list

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As you may know – or maybe not – I am devoting the month of November to a personal challenge: over on my Patreon page I am posting daily, both in English and Italian, my worldbuilding notes as over a period of 30 days I design a world from the bottom up. I have decided to build a planetary romance/sword & planet venue, and then use it, in the next months, as a setting for short stories and for a lightweight, quick & easy roleplaying game.

And after a very generic start, as the end of the first week approaches, we are starting to see the world of Sar-zeroth taking shape. And in my fast and unfiltered work of worldbuilding, I have of course been “inspired” by books, comics and movies I’ve seen. For this reason, I’ve decided to put together a list of the books I’ve read over the years and that somehow suggested some of the bits and pieces I’ve plugged into this setting. An annotated bibliography of sorts.
The list is evolving as I write the whole thing, and so, expect more.
But for the time being, I’d list…

Edgar Rice Burroughs – the John Carter novels.
This is where everything began, the first planetary romance and/or sword & planet series. This set the ground rules of the sub-genre, and generated a million similar stories, some of which you’ll find in this list. I still believe The Master Mind of Mars is the best of the lot, but your mileage might vary.

Jack Vance – the Tschai novels. Often referred to as Planet of Adventure, this series of books updates Burroughs’ planetary romance venue and sets a tone that is less flat-out heroic and more tongue in cheek. Tschai is also a great example of a sandbox setting – in which basically you can imagine any kind of story, and it would fit seamlessly.
And as we are talking Vance, Big Planet is also a great source of inspiration.

Lyon Sprague DeCamp – the Viagens and Planet Krishna books, that represent sort of the missing link between Burroughs and Vance: over-the-top adventures with an ironic attitude and a great gusto for farce. Admittedly the Krishna novels can be hit-or-miss at times, but the hits still balance the misses.

Leigh Brackett – I could write “everything” in this space, and it would be right. But I’ll go for the Skaith novels, for their picture of a planetary romance venue that is a cul-de-sac from which there is no escaping, and for the variety of the action and depth of characterization. All the stories featuring Eric John Stark are required reading, just as all the other excellent space opera adventures from Brackett, but this is planetary romance as literature.

Mary Gentle – the Orthe novels offer a third-world approach to planetary romance, and take place on an exotic world filled with Big Dumb Objects but also oppressed by the consequences of a civilization that basically almost blasted itself into oblivion. Tough, demanding, but a great read and an off-beat take on planetary romance.

Jim Silke’s Rascals in Paradise – a comic book painted by pinup artist Silke, featuring adventures on a tourist resort planet. Incredibly silly but beautiful to behold.

And this, just for starters.

As I mentioned, as work progresses I’ll certainly add other titles to this bibliography.

And if you are interested in seeing how things shape up, consider dropping one buck (or more!) into my Patreon, for daily posts and the opportunity to ask questions and make suggestions.

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

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