Thursday, February 6, 2020

Steve Johnson on "The Doom that Came to Necropolis", for Luna

This is one of those intros that just lent itself to Rod Serling.

Don't believe me?


Necropolis is a small town, complete with small town values and small town myths. Unbeknownst to them, their doom is about to arrive, riding a motorcycle, clad in a leather jacket and armed with the weapons of science. His mission is simple, but about to trigger a war that can only be waged in … the Lunar zone.
See what I mean?

“Necropolis” came about when I was working on prose styles, which should more honestly be called slavishly copying E.E. “Doc” Smith. His Lensmen are super-competent, with more options and resources than your average superhero, so they don’t spend a lot of time tracking down purse snatchers. I needed an enemy, and who’s better than Cthulhu?

This led to “what would a story in which a Lensman went up against Cthulhu sound like?” Both Lovecraft and Smith used complex sentences with many dependent clauses, a wide vocabulary, and even similar simile-stacking compound-comparison stupendously starkly adjectivial exaggerations! So I was able to work out a pretty dead-on combination of their styles.

That was more important to me, actually, then who was in it or what happened! Bruce Glassco, a fellow Clarionite who created the game “Betrayal at the House on the Hill”, suggested a typically hapless Lovecraft protagonist to play up the contrast, and boy did that help. Most of the story is Monk-and-Ham, Remo-and-Chuin bickering and banter, until the plot literally kicks in the door and makes them stop.

I’m still in love with the idea, by the way. I recently debuted the first chapter of a novella pitting a Doc Savage imitation against a very close copy of Cthulhu, without quite giving copyright lawyers any reason to salivate in anticipation.  Now the clear-eyed hero has a coterie of friends to help him, and a significantly bigger threat to deal with. If it works, expect a whole series of Space Men vs. the Great Old Ones stories, each bigger, more over-the-top, and more fun than the last. It would be nice to have a pulp formula like Doc Savage did, to keep the series going forever, but the big question for me in any series concept is “can you top this?”


Steven G. Johnson has reported on crimes, butchered pineapple, reviewed comic books and now teaches high school. A book-a-day man from way back, he can quote passages of Starship Troopers and the Lensman series from memory, which would be terribly useful if they were given equal weight in the curriculum to Shakespeare. That would be the only advantage of giving them equal weight to Shakespeare: the increase of Steven G. Johnson's educational usefulness. He has told convention audiences that the important things remain important, no matter what century or fictive universe: love, death, fear, power, loyalty, friendship, war and family. The crunchy bits like zombie biker sorcery from Mars are wonderfully tasty, but they are not the meal. He thinks the scariest two-word phrase in the language is "Aztec dentist" and is not at all sure he would like hearing an even scarier one. Steve and his wife, historical author Virginia C. Johnson, reside in Fredericksburg, Virginia in an old house with a tower, with their son, Benedict von Graf, their loyal dog Max, and a stable of cats. The dog is also stable. 

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