Friday, March 10, 2017

Planetary Picaresque

We're all familiar with the Planetary Romance or Sword and Planet stories of the Burroughsian ilk, where a stranger (typically a person of earth) has adventures of a lost world or derring-do sort of variety on an alien world. I'd like to suggest that their is a subgenre or closely related genre that could be termed the Planetary Picaresque.

The idea came to me while revisiting the novels in Vance's Planet of Adventure sequence. The first novel, City of the Chasch, is pretty typical of the Planetary Romance form, albeit more science fiction-ish than Burroughs and wittier than most of his imitators. By the second novel, Servant of the Wankh (or Wanek), however, Vance's hero is spending more time getting the better of would be swindlers or out maneuvering his social superiors amid the risible and baroque societies of Tschai than engaging in acts of swordplay or derring-do. One could argue the stalwart Adam Reith is not himself a picaro, but the ways he is forced to get by on Tschai certainly resemble the sort of situations a genuine picaro might get into.

These sort of elements are not wholly absent from Vance's sword and planet progenitors (Burroughs has some of that, probably borrowed from Dumas), but Vance makes it the centerpiece rather than the comedy relief. Some of L. Sprague de Camp's Krishna seem to be in a similar vein.

The roleplaying applications of this ought to be obvious. You get to combine the best parts of Burroughs with the best parts of Leiber. I think that's a pretty appealing combination.


JDsivraj said...

I thought of the planet Krishna stories as soon as I read the title of the post.
I just have to say I love the title on that book cover you posted. It is almost shamefully subversive.

garrisonjames said...

The Tschai series is great stuff and your suggestion of melding Vance's and Lieber's picaresque elements is pretty good advice. You could also look at some of Tubb's 'Dumarest of Terra' series and Laumer's Retief for a bit more of the roguish-ness in a slightly more Scifi-ish vein.