Thursday, July 5, 2018

Into The Wastelands With Clark Ashton Smith's Zothique & Xiccarph Collection Edited By Greg Gorgonmilk - An OSR Review & Commentary

So Greg Gorgonmilk approached myself & a bunch of other OSR folks about doing a Clark Ashton Smith Zothique & Xiccarph book. I contributed some input & comments but he when above & beyond putting the whole affair together. I asked for a review copy because I'm a huge Clark Ashton Smith fanatic. I'm more of a Clark Ashton Smith reader then HP Lovcraft which seems to come with time. The book itself clocks in at about three hundred & eighty four pages plus some appropriate poetry closely tied into the this particular CAS cycle.

Zothique is one of the best of Clark Ashton Smith's cycles & the stories here are well laid out, the type is easy on the eyes, & everything flows like Sword & Sorcery appendix N honey. If your not farmiliar with Zothique let me enlighten you with a letter between Clark Ashton Smith & L. Sprague de Camp from the Zothique wiki entry;
"Clark Ashton Smith himself described the Zothique cycle in a letter to L. Sprague de Camp, dated November 3, 1953:
Zothique, vaguely suggested by Theosophic theories about past and future continents, is the last inhabited continent of earth. The continents of our present cycle have sunken, perhaps several times. Some have remained submerged; others have re-risen, partially, and re-arranged themselves. Zothique, as I conceive it, comprises Asia Minor, Arabia, Persia, India, parts of northern and eastern Africa, and much of the Indonesian archipelago. A new Australia exists somewhere to the south. To the west, there are only a few known islands, such as Naat, in which the black cannibals survive. To the north, are immense unexplored deserts; to the east, an immense unvoyaged sea. The peoples are mainly of Aryan or Semitic descent; but there is a negro kingdom (Ilcar) in the north-west; and scattered blacks are found throughout the other countries, mainly in palace-harems. In the southern islands survive vestiges of Indonesian or Malayan races. The science and machinery of our present civilization have long been forgotten, together with our present religions. But many gods are worshipped; and sorcery and demonism prevail again as in ancient days. Oars and sails alone are used by mariners. There are no fire-arms—only the bows, arrows, swords, javelins, etc. of antiquity. The chief language spoken (of which I have provided examples in an unpublished drama) is based on Indo-European roots and is highly inflected, like Sanskrit, Greek and Latin.
Darrell Schweitzer suggests the idea of writing about a far future land may have come from William Hope Hodgson's novel The Night Land, noting that Smith was an admirer of Hodgson's work."
You can see even on the book's side the print is strong & very easy to read, all of the classic short stories are here from these two highly influential cycles of CAS's extensive body of work.

Zothique is the far future of Earth millions of eons in the Dying Sun waning last days of the world when the whole setting still has more then a tinge of magic, dread, & chaos about it. Adventure is still in the offering & women & men are willing to risk it all for there are dreaded abandoned kingdoms just waiting in wait for the unwary.
"The abandoned cities of these lost kingdoms can still be found by the unwary traveler.
One of the most ancient of these was the kingdom of Ossaru, who ruled half of Zothique. His capital lay in a desolate region near the northeastern borders of Yoros. (TS)
Cincor was the home of the fabled Nimboth dynasty, and its capital of Yethlyreom. It is now a "drear and leprous and ashen" desert (EN). The situation of Cincor relative to the other kingdoms of Zothique is uncertain, but it apparently lies east or southeast of Xylac. It was thought by some that Ossaru's capital might be located there. North of Cincor lies the land of Tinarath. The eastern bounds of Cincor are the Mykrasian Mountains, beyond which the way leads through fruitful Zhel, many-citied Istanam, and the desert of Dhir, until one comes at last to Calyz."

The Zothique cycle includes: 
  1. "Empire of the Necromancers" (Weird Tales, September 1932) — EN
    Setting: The city of Yethlyreom in the realm of Cincor. Characters: Mmatmuor and Sodosma, necromancers; Illeiro and Hestaiyon, dead emperors of Cincor.
  2. "The Isle of the Torturers" (Weird Tales, March 1933) — IT
    Setting: The city of Faraad in the realm of Yoros, and the island of Uccastrog. Characters: Fulbra, king of Yoros; Vemdeez, the king's astrologer; Ildrac, king of Uccastrog; Ilvaa, woman of Uccastrog.
  3. "The Charnel God" (Weird Tales, March 1934) — CG
    Setting: The city of Zul-Bha-Sair. Characters: Phariom and Elaith, travelers from Xylac; Abnon-Tha, a necromancer; Narghai and Vemba-Tsith, his assistants.
  4. "The Dark Eidolon" (Weird Tales, January 1935) — DE
    Setting: The city of Ummaos in the empire of Xylac. Characters: Zotulla, emperor of Xylac; Obexah, his concubine; Namirrha, a necromancer.
  5. "The Voyage of King Euvoran" (The Double Shadow and Other Fantasies, 1933; Weird Tales, September 1947 (abridged) as "The Quest of the Gazolba") — VE
    Setting: The city of Aramoam in the realm of Ustaim, and a long sea voyage through the islands of the orient sea. Characters: Euvoran, king of Ustaim; Naz Obbamar, a shipwrecked sea-captain.
  6. "The Weaver in the Vault" (Weird Tales, January 1934) — WV
    Setting: The dead city of Chaon Gacca in Tasuun. Characters: Yanur, Grotara, and Thirlain Ludoch, henchmen of King Famorgh of Tasuun.
  7. "The Tomb Spawn" (Weird Tales, May 1934) — TS
    Setting: A lost city somewhere in the north of Yoros. Characters: Milab and Marabac, jewel-merchants from Ustaim.
  8. "The Witchcraft of Ulua" (Weird Tales, February 1934) — WU
    Setting: The city of Miraab in the realm of Tasuun. Characters: Famorgh, king of Tasuun; Ulua, his daughter, a sorceress; Amalzain, cupbearer to the king; Sabmon, his great-uncle, an anchorite.
  9. "Xeethra" (Weird Tales, December 1934) — X
    Setting: The Mykrasian mountains in the east of Cincor; the city of Shathair in the realm of Calyz. Characters: Xeethra, a goatherd of Cincor; Pornos, his uncle.
  10. "The Last Hieroglyph" (Weird Tales, April 1935) — LH
    Setting: The city of Ummaos in the realm of Xylac. Charactes: Nushain, an astrologer; Mouzda, his servant.
  11. "Necromancy in Naat" (Weird Tales, July 1936) — NN
    Setting: The port city of Oroth in Xylac, and the island of Naat in the west. Characters: Yadar, prince of Zyra; Dalili, his beloved; Agor, ship's captain; Vacharn, Vokal, and Uldulla, necromancers.
  12. "The Black Abbot of Puthuum" (Weird Tales, March 1936) — BA
    Setting: The Izdrel desert of Yoros. Characters: Zobal and Cushara, warriors of Yoros; Simban, a eunuch; Rubalsa, maiden of Izdrel; Ujuk, abbot of Puthuum; Uldor, dead abbot of Puthuum.
  13. "The Death of Ilalotha" (Weird Tales, September 1937) — DI
    Setting: The city of Miraab in the realm of Tasuun. Characters: Xantlicha, queen of Tasuun; Thulos, her lover; Ilalotha, former lover of Thulos.
  14. "The Garden of Adompha" (Weird Tales, April 1938) — GA
    Setting: The city of Loithé on the island of Sotar. Characters: Adommpha, king of Sotar; Dwerulas, court magician.
  15. "The Master of the Crabs" (Weird Tales, March 1948) — MC
    Setting: Mirouane, a seaport of Xylac, and the island of Iribos. Characters: Mior Lumivix, a wizard; Manthar, his apprentice; Sarcand, a rival sorcerer.
  16. "Morthylla" (Weird Tales, May 1953) — M

    Setting: Umbri and Psiom, cities of the Delta, and the necropolis between them. Characters: Valzain, poet and voluptuary of Umbri; Famurza, his mentor; Beldith, woman of Psiom.

    Pretty much everything is laid at the dungeon master's feet & here are rare sights indeed for the cunning DM waiting to use exotic Zothique in their own home game campaigns. I've used the land of the dying sun many times for classic Dungeons & Dragons to OSR games such as Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea second edition.
    In fact I've used Zothique as being another region of AS&SH's version of Hyperborea where the ancient past has been erased by the Green Death plague that swept across the face of the world. Yes I know CAS's  Hyperborea cycle has bits & pieces of AS&SH's background.  But its really Zothique that really contains the solid CAS core for the far future Earth of AS&SH's Appendix N influence.

    The second set of stories follows the Xiccarph cycle & its one of the shortest of Clark Ashton Smith's series of stories. But its also one of the single most important because it follows the black wizard  anti hero Maal Dweb who plays with the lives of lesser humans. Maal Dweb is a complex character of Jack Vance Dying Earth god  wizard cosmic levels who rules over a solar system. The  Xiccarph cycle is marked by Clark Ashton Smith's cosmic perspective & vein of sardonically ironic humor.
    The two stories in the cycle are Flower-Women, The (1935) & Maze of Maal Dweb, The (1938)
     When it comes to actually using the stories in the Zothique & Xiccarph cycles I highly suggest taking adventure outline advice from the Hill Canton Point Crawl adventure construction method. The Zothique material seems to adjust to it quite well with adventure locations bridging the large portions of wasteland that rings the locations mentioned in the stories.
    So is the whole collection worth the price of admission? I think so whole heartily and its very well done for an appendix N style collection framed with some of the best Clark Ashton Smith poetry that book ends the whole affair.

    Note that none of the OSR table top creators are responsible for any of the content of this review/commentary.

    You can grab this collection
    right over here.

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