Monday, December 31, 2007

Beowulf Rocks

Just back from viewing Robert Zemeckis's Beowulf in 3D. I enjoyed it tremendously. A rollicking good time for the sword & sorcery enthusiast. In case you haven't seen the previews this is the fully computer generated film with motion capture performances by Ray Winstone, Anthony Hopkins, John Malkovich, and Angelina Jolie. The action is pretty much non stop in this one, with lots of fights and monsters and the kinds of stuff that I go to movies for. It is a bit on the violent side and the monsters are pretty scary, so parents should probably be aware that this isn't a kids cartoon. It even stays fairly close to the original legend.
The 3D effects are very impressive so try and catch this one in the 3D version. You get to wear nifty glasses and everything. Arrows come flying at you, and it seems that at any moment a dragon may drop into your lap. (I was hoping Angelina might pop out, but no go.)
On an odd note, Brenden Gleeson, who plays Beowulf's right hand man Wiglaf, looks amazingly like photos I've seen of the late fantasy author Karl Edward Wagner, red hair, beard and all.

Broken Glass

I started David Drake's book The Fortress of Glass but soon hurled it aside in irritation. By page 25 Drake was still introducing his main characters. And I mean that quite literally. There are apparently over half a dozen main characters to this book, and Drake takes roughly three pages for each, stopping the plot to give you his or her entire background. Now if an editor saw a new writer doing this, he would chastise the writer for "info-dumping" but since it's Drake, a perennial best seller, he gets away with it. The book may well pick up in chapter two, but I won't be around to see it. A novel usually needs to get off to a quick start to hold my attention and this one isn't meeting that criteria. Bleh.

Two Thumbs Up

Watched a couple of movies over the weekend that I'd been meaning to get around to. Live Free or Die Had and The Simpsons Movie. I enjoyed them both.
The fourth Die Hard movie was a huge improvement on the third, which I found rather ponderous for an action movie. This one is probably closest in spirit to the first film, at least as far as Bruce Willis's portrayal of NYPD cop, John MacLaine. The wisecracks and the 'take no crap' attitude is firmly in place. The years between the first film and this one have given Willis a sort of world weary look that really works here.
Oh sure, there are a couple of physics and logic defying moments, but as a slam bang action movie, this one really delivers.
I found the Simpsons movie to be a lot of fun, but ultimately not much different from an episode of the regular series. The story really isn't any more far fetched or bigger than many existing TV episodes. The makers did make use of a bigger budget for more impressive animation effects, giving the objects more depth and having a few more ambitious animated set pieces, but overall it wasn't hugely different from the show. Guess that was to be expected after all the years the Simpsons has been on the air. Not a lot that you could really change without conflicting with the established series.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Cold December Rain

I've been out to breakfast and over to Borders to book browse already this morning. Had to make my way through a cold rain which is still falling. This is the sort of rain our drought plagued state needs, slow, steady and fairly heavy. It was still dark when I went to breakfast, and I asked for a table near a window so I could sit and watch the rain fall through the street lamps, forming dark puddles on the wet, black asphalt.
Didn't do much good at the bookstore. Picked up the first volume in one of David Drake's series that I've been meaning to try. More on that later. Now I'm home, listening to the rain, a sound that I never get tired of and hear far too infrequently of late.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Make Room! Make Room!

I was doing a little book culling and rearranging last night. A recent spate of collectible hardbacks has made it necessary for me to make some more room on my bookshelves. It also caused me to rethink some of my categories for shelving, particularly on the sword & sorcery shelves. Originally the top shelf was reserved for hardbacks of what I consider to be the five main sword & sorcery originators, Robert E. Howard, C.L. Moore, Fritz Lieber, Michael Moorcock, and Karl Edward Wagner. Below that I had Conan and Tarzan hardback and trade paperback comics collections (because the shelf is taller and they fit) and below that were H.P. Lovecraft related books and assorted fantasy, with art books on the lowest and tallest shelf.
With the recent acquisition of two of the three volumes of The Collected Letters of Robert E. Howard and the Last of the Trunk, it occurred to me that I probably had enough REH related books to give him his own shelf. So I pulled everything that wasn't REH off the top shelf, added the Del Rey Trades of Kull, Bran Mak Morn, etc to the hardbacks and then pulled various Howard biographies and studies from the literary biography section on another bookcase and put all that together. It almost filled the shelf, leaving just a little room for the third volume of letters. So that worked.
Then I moved Moorcock, Lieber, etc to the next shelf, filling the Howard gap with Flashing Swords hardbacks and the recent Charles Saunders Imaro trades, making for a nice Sword & Sorcery shelf.
Then I added the new Collected Fantasies of Clark Ashton Smith and my two Ramsey Campbell books to the Lovecraft section, moved some art and comics related books around and eventually got things the way I wanted them. For now...

Pizza Dreams

I read an article a while back where some authority on dreaming (and I'm not really sure how you get to be an authority on dreaming) said that what you eat doesn't have any effect on your dreams. I'm going to have to sort of disagree, because whenever I eat pizza, especially if I eat too much of it, I have stranger dreams than usual, and if you know how my dreams are, then you know that's saying something. I had one too many slices of a Mellow Mushroom pepperoni and mushroom pizza last night and I spent all night fighting every manner of ghoul and goblin and long leggedy beastie that could work its way into my subconscious. At one point I was climbing a spiral staircase with some folks I can't remember now, and I remember thinking, this is a really bad idea. See, one thing I have learned in a lifetime of nightmares is you never go upstairs. The basement is a bad idea too, but upstairs is right out. Monsters always seem to live upstairs in houses, museums, libraries, and especially churches. So of course as we reach the upper floor this tall, emaciated, bloody, headless, corpse thing comes staggering out of a doorway, proving me right, yet again.
Of course, being me, I ducked low, grabbed the thing around the knees and lifted, pitching it over my back so that it fell into the stairwell and went bouncing down the stairs. Remember kids, fast reflexes are the key to successful monster fighting. It wasn't alone though and things got worse. They always do in my dreams. Anyway, it went on like that most of the night. So expert opinions aside, I think what you eat can cause strange dreams. For some it's Welsh Rarebit, and for some it's pizza, but it still makes for restless nights.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

I Can Has Waffles?

A friend recommended the new Eggo Homestyle frozen waffles, saying that if cooked in the oven, as opposed to the toaster, they were remarkably good. So I bought some this week and dutifully preheated Mr. Oven and toasted me some Eggos. Darn things are indeed pretty tasty. Taste much more like a real waffle than your usual frozen variety. Excellent with a side of turkey sausage. They'll do until I get brave enough to actually start making batter.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Christmas Postscript

Well as it turned out, I spent most of Christmas watching Doctor Who and reading Savage Sword of Conan. Originally Dark Horse Comics was supposed to have the first volume of their Savage Sword reprint series out last week, but they dropped the ball. I'd been looking forward to having the stories easily accessible, but since that didn't happen, I pulled out the first five issues of Savage tales and the first ten of Savage Sword and read my way through them. Also read two Dell Tarzan comics that arrived in the mail on Monday.
As far as the Doctor goes, I had watched the Christmas episode from the first season of the new series on Christmas eve. One final adventure with the ninth Doctor and Rose. It involved Charles Dickens and zombies. Always a winning combination. I'd also re-watched the Christmas Invasion from season two, which was David Tenant's first adventure as the Doctor. It finished up with a sword fight high over London. My kind of show.
Yesterday I watched The Runaway bride, which was the Christmas special from the third season. Got to see something I never thought I'd see. The Tardis involved in a car chase on a busy freeway. Then, still in the mood for more of the Doctor, I watched the two part episode from season one where the Doctor and Rose first meet Whitney's pal, Captain Jack Harkness. Lots of fun. So it wasn't a traditional Christmas, but it was a fun one.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

A Merry Little (and I do mean Little) Christmas

Christmas was kind of abbreviated this year. I was sufficiently concerned with my grandmother's health that I didn't make the Christmas party last night. This morning I went up to my brother's house and exchanged gifts with his family and my parents. My sister in law wasn't feeling well either so she opted out of her usual Christmas dinner activities, so basically my Christmas was over by about noon. I'm okay with that. Though I am feeling much better today, I'd just as soon not be doing any more socializing. I'm home, watching Christmas stuff on DVD and chilling out. I'm having a merry little Christmas with an emphasis on the LITTLE.

Monday, December 24, 2007

The Reading Report

The main book for the weekend was Michael Ennis's Byzantium, a massive (765 pages) historical novel following the career of the famous Norse hero Harald the Ruthless during the period when he was a member of the Varangian Guard, the troop of Norse bodyguards created by the Byzantine emperor Basil II.
This is a very good book if one is interested in 10th Century Constantinople,(and one is) but it's also one of those historical novels that sometimes drags because the author tried to get ALL of his considerable research in. Still, it is far superior to Steven Lawhead's book of the same title and so far, the best fictional book I've read about the Byzantine Empire. Recommended.
Occasionally needing a break from the plodding pace of Byzantium, I stopped to read assorted other stuff. Read a couple of short stories from the latest Clark Ashton Smith collection. Read some more of The Last of the Trunk. Re-read the first novella in Moorcock's The Vanishing Tower just because I was in the mood for an Elric adventure. Read a bunch of Superman stories in the DC Showcase Superman Vol III, including the classic 3 part 'imaginary story' the Death of Superman, where Lex Luthor finally manages to kill the man of steel and the world mourns. Fantastic artwork on that one by Curt Swan. I know I've mentioned before how much I'm enjoying the DC Showcase books, but it bears repeating. I've grown rather tired of many of today's comic books and their creators. The Showcase volumes have really helped to remind me why I fell in love with the medium of comics to begin with, and how much I still love some of the classic characters like Superman, Flash, Hawkman and Green Lantern and their original creators. Carmine Infantino. Gil Kane. John Broome. Gardner Fox. Joe Kubert. Names to conjure with.

Can't Win for Losing

So I got a head cold last month and it took forever to get over it, but it finally went away. Unfortunately right before I left work last week for the holidays, almost everyone in the office had a cold. I tried to stay clear of them. I washed my hands constantly. I thought I'd slipped by, but no, I got it. I imagine my immune system was still weak from the previous cold. Anyway, it doesn't seem to be as bad as the last one, but it's bad enough to be annoying. Just not my year. Of course, traditionally, when I have a cold, it always seems to be at Christmas. The worst case of the flu I ever had was right in the middle of the holidays.
As a result, there's a good chance I won't be going to the Rutledge family gathering at the assisted living home where my grandmother lives this evening. She's pretty frail now and there's no way I'm going to expose her to any sort of cold germs. I feel pretty good this morning, but we'll see how the day goes.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

A Little Book Hunting

Headed out early this morning to Marietta Book Nook to get a little book hunting in. Found a couple of interesting items. One was Kandar, a slender sword & sorcery book from 1969 by Kenneth Bulmer. I'm fond of Bulmer's Dray Prescott series written under his pen name of Alan Burt Akers, and Kandar also had a Jeff Jones cover I hadn't seen before. Funny thing about Jones is in the late 60s/early 70s he was kind of a poor man's Frank Frazetta. If you wanted a Frazetta-ish painting, but couldn't afford Frank, Jones could knock one out pretty quick and was cheap. Thus, many cheap and poorly written Belmont, Tower, and Leisure books have fairly spiffy Jones covers.
Also picked up the novelization of the movie Conan the Barbarian. Yes, I know it sounds like something I'd already have, but I hated the movie and have no interest in reading the novelization. BUT this was a really nice copy and it was the single L. Sprague de Camp/Lin Carter Conan book I didn't own. According to de Camp, Carter didn't actually write any of this one but his name was on the contract so his name is on the book.
I picked up one of the Hercules:The Legendary Journeys tie-in books. If it's as bad as the single Xena novel I own I probably won't read it, but I figured I needed at least one in my collection since I liked the show so much.
And I bought a copy of Ancient Images by Ramsey Campbell. Been enjoying his short stories so much I figured I'd give one of his novels a try. I'd read a synopsis of this one online and it sounds promising. Something about a lost Karloff/Lugosi film that was never released for mysterious and possibly supernatural reasons. I like the sound of that.
All and all, not a bad haul.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Conan and Elric go to Wafflehouse

Another popular story from Christmas Past is my Conan/Elric Wafflehouse vignette. I wrote this in my head on the way back from Wafflehouse one Christmas eve morn, and hammered it out as soon as I walked in the door.

A writer, a barbarian, and an albino walk into a Waffle House. It's Christmas Eve and Dolly Pardon is singing about a Hard Candy Christmas on the juke box. We take a booth in the corner. The waitress doesn't blink at my companions. Guess you see it all at a Waffle House near a major highway.
"What is hard candy?" Conan says.
"It's like solidified sugar."
"What's sugar?"
"I guess they don't have a lot of confectioners in the Hyborian age. It's like someone took all the sweetness out of a bunch of fruit and squeezed it all together in one small lump."
"Sorcery," says Conan, casting an eye toward Elric. The albino either doesn't notice or pretends not to.
"This song is about pain and loss," says Elric. "It speaks to me."
"Never figured you for a country music fan," I say.
"What country is it from?"
"Never mind."
The waitress comes by and takes our orders. I have eggs, bacon, and toast. Elric has something he picks at random off the menu. Conan has one of everything.
"I like this orange juice, but the coffee is not to my liking," Conan says.
"Acquired taste," I tell him.
"So you have this celebration?" Conan says.
"Are there sacrifices?" asks Elric.
Thinking of some of the family I have to talk to, I say, "Yes. Definitely."
"Will there be feasting and brawling?" says Conan.
"Knowing my family, probably so."
The Cimmerian nods as if I've said something profound.
We're making the other patrons nervous, I can tell. I tell the boys to eat up and I pay the check. I leave an extra big tip for the waitress for her trouble.
"I must return to the young kingdoms and seek my destiny," says Elric when we're in the parking lot. "I'll take leave of you here."
Conan says, "I make my own destiny, but I must go as well. Thanks for the food."
"You're welcome. Merry Christmas, guys."
"Aye," says Conan.
Elric merely nods.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Going Nowhere. Fast.

I've been reading through The Last of the Trunk, the Robert E. Howard book I mentioned couple of posts ago. While the book contains several completed stories, I decided to read the fragments first. Some are a short as two paragraphs, while a few are three to five pages long. The interesting thing is that in pretty much every case I think I can see why Howard didn't finish the story.
One of the odd things about writing is that it tends to be mercurial and inconsistent. There are days you can do no wrong and there are days you can't write your way out of the proverbial paper bag. Usually I can tell when I'm not writing up to my ability. Sometimes you can do a rewrite and fix it, but a lot of the time you just have something that needs to be put away. I get that familiar feeling when reading through these fragments. The tone is just wrong somehow. The stories seem forced or somehow false as if Howard didn't really 'feel' the story but was just pushing on anyway. Some of them have too much exposition too early. Some of them have dialogue that is unconvincing. Some are just...weak. Hard to explain but there you go. Anyway, I'm finding it fascinating to see some Howard's stories that just didn't work for him.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Grinch Fiction

I've had a few requests to reprint my Hard-Boiled Grinch poem from several years back. And since I was just talking about Lanny, who appears in the poem, I figured this was a good time.

Grinch Fiction

by Charles R. Rutledge, with apologies to Dr. Seuss and Mickey Spillane.

Every Who down in Who-Ville liked Christmas a lot...
But the Grinch, who lived just north of Who-ville, did not.

The Grinch hated Christmas. The whole Christmas Season.
Now please don't ask why. No one quite knows the reason.
But one night while the Grinch dreamed Grinch dreams in his bed,
Someone crept up Mount Crumpet and killed the Grinch dead.

Now the Whos have no lawmen so I got the call,
With my pals, Chris and Lanny in no time at all,
We looked over the crime scene,
We examined the clues,
We checked in the fireplace, we opened the flues.

"He could have been strangled,"
That was Lanny's Theory.
"Or beaten" said Chris,
But I was still leery.

For I thought that the thing that had made the Grinch dead,
Was the humongous hole that was blown in his head.

"We must go down to Who-ville," I said to the guys,
"And question the Whos before someone else dies.
Lanny you can check uptown and I will check down.
Chris you check the dives on the outskirts of town."

"It's a quarter past noon and we must solve this riddle,
We'll check all parts of town, then we'll meet in the middle."

To the dark edge of Who-ville Chris strolled without fear,
To find Who informants, to ply with Who beer.
He met Hortense Whohah at the foot of Mount Crumpet,
She's the world famous who-ho, the well known who strumpet.

"A Who who's a hooker?" Chris puzzled and pondered.
Then back to her boudoir the two of them wandered.

We'll switch now to Lanny to keep this tale clean,
He'd been ambushed by the Who Gang,
The Who crime machine.

Lanny picked out their leader, a big who named Moe.
Gave him one chance to tell him what he wanted to know.
But Moe wasn't too bright and he made an attack.
My pal Lanny kicked Moe, knocked him flat on his back.

Then he broke both his ankles.
He broke both his wrists.
He rained blows on the top of his head with his fists.

By the time that Lanny had finished with Moe,
He'd learned Moe knew nothing, and decided to go.

Meanwhile I realized I'd made a mistake.
Something at the cave was decidedly fake.

We'd been so anxious to examine the scene of the crime,
That an important fact had escaped at the time.
With the answer ringing like a long winded trumpet.
I turned my feet North and went back up Mount Crumpet.

While outside the cave lay snow wide and deep,
No tracks marked the passage so how could there creep,
A person or persons to finish the Grinch?
I reached the top of mount of Mount Crumpet and crept inch by inch,
To the mouth of the cavern to peer deep inside,
And there lurked the culprit with eyes wild and wide.

Since the snow showed that no one had walked out or entered,
There was only one suspect on whom the search centered.
In deduction and reason my brain had been lax,
The only possible killer was the Grinch's dog, Max.

He still had deer antlers tied to his head,
And the look in his canine eyes filled me with dread.
He still held the gun that had murdered his master,
The dog could move fast, so I had to move faster.

The thing that I now had to do made me sick.
So I got out my gat.
And I got it out quick.

Kachow went the roscoe,
Kapow went the piece.
I tried for a flesh wound,
Nicked his skull with a crease.

"If he gets a good lawyer, he'll be out in a year,"
I told Chris and Lanny, "Now let's get out of here."

"Wait a minute," said Chris, "There must be a lesson.
There's always a moral so don't keep us guessin."

I shrugged as I gazed down at Who-ville below,
Still waiting for Christmas, still covered with snow.
"If there's anything, guys, that's to be learned here,
It's don't make your dog dress up like a reindeer."

A Small Taste of London

Went to the mail today and found a package from my pal Lanny, who lives in the wilds of Texas, and who is one of the original members of the Doctor No's gang. Now that he lives out west we rarely get to see him. I opened up the package to find three Galaxy Bars. The Galaxy bar is a milk chocolate candy bar that I discovered on my first trip to London England back in 1996. It quickly became a favorite of mine and I always made a point of buying a big bunch of them whenever I was in the UK. They can be a little hard to get on this side of the pond.
A few weeks back Lanny called me from a British specialty grocery store he'd discovered in Texas and asked if there was any particular British food I wanted. I said, Galaxy Bars! of course.
Today they arrived wrapped in Christmas paper inside a Priority Mailer. Made my day. I sat right down and unwrapped one of them and ate it slowly. The taste took me right back to London, my favorite city, and to a lot of good memories. And it was doubly good because I was able to enjoy the candy thanks to the thoughtfulness of my friend. So thanks, Lanny, and Merry Christmas. You're a pal.

Two Out of Three

In addition to being a nifty Holiday evening, last night was also a banner night for book buying with new books by two of the 'big three' Weird tales authors. In case you're unfamiliar with this triumvirate of scribes, that would be H.P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, and Clark Ashton Smith. Only Lovecraft wasn't represented.
The Last of the Trunk is a thick volume that is quite literally the last of the trunk where Robert E. Howard stored his manuscripts. Over the years most of Howard's prodigious pulp output, both published and unpublished, has been collected into various volumes. This book represents all that remained. Fragments, drafts, outlines, sketches, and all the other stuff that didn't really fit in anywhere else. Mostly of interest only to the Howard completist, the book was published as a limited edition of only 300 copies. Mine is number 67, which is the same number as my Collected Letters of Robert E. Howard volumes. Pretty darn cool.
The other book was A Vintage From Atlantis: The Collected Fantasies of Clark Ashton Smith, Volume 3. Third in a projected five volume set, this is another collection of the shot stories of CAS. Smith was the author I originally was least interested in of the three. The dark imaginings of Lovecraft and the over the top action of Robert E. Howard sort of overshadowed Smith back in my early reading days. More recently though I have come to appreciate Smith's prose and I have come to think him probably the finest stylist of the group. Poetic, strange, and evocative, his writing carries a weirdness to it that no other writer can really match. Great stuff and two more volumes to go.

Faithful Friends

Last night was the Doctor No's Christmas get together. I racked up, scoring a cool new watch from Trish, A much coveted Spiderman Omnibus from Cliff, and more baked goods, candy etc, than you could shake a stick at from the gang. Thanks to everyone!
More importantly it was a very fun evening with my friends and everyone seemed to have a really good time. Much laughing and carrying on. I've said it before, but it bears saying again. I consider the Doctor No's group to be my extended family so while it's always great to hang out with them, I am reminded at the holidays just how important these people are to me.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Paper Procrastination

Well as usual, I bought all my Christmas presents (except an extra one I picked up yesterday) early but have yet to wrap any of them. I have to hand out the first few this evening, so I guess I'll have to knuckle down and do some wrapping. I don't know why I always put wrapping off to the last minute. I don't really mind doing it and I'm fairly good at it. Somehow though, I always seem to be wrapping things just a couple of hours before they're unwrapped. I haven't even bought any paper yet. Guess I'll stop by a drugstore on the way home and pick up some paper and some tags.
Now, will I wrap everything while I'm at it tonight? Probably not. Just the stuff I need for tonight. And I'll probably wrap the stuff I need for Christmas eve on Christmas eve, and the stuff for Christmas morning on Christmas morning...

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Cat Plan B

Well as things turned out, Trish will not be out of town for eleven days at the Holidays as originally planned but instead only four days, This will mean we'll be switching to Cat Plan B. Plan B means that instead of Bruce and Amelia coming to my place to stay, I'll swing by Trish's place every other day and check on them, make sure they have food and water, and just hang out for a bit. Basically, since it takes Amelia three or so days to get used to my place, and since Trish has to bring so much stuff up, litter box, food, dishes, toys, etc, it's easier for me to just go down there on any trip shorter than five days. Don't worry. Trish has longer trips planned for the spring, so I'll have more thrilling cat sitting stories then.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Hogfather Part II

I just finished watching part two of Hogfather. This is, without a doubt, the best Christmas movie I've seen in ages. It's just really really keen. I'll be watching this every year now. It's got all the things you want in a Christmas special. Family, friends, heroism, selflessness. And it has monsters and magic and last minute rescues. Now that's a Christmas special.
Oh and it has Death. I have a special fondness for Death as a character because long before I had read Terry Pratchett's books and seen HIS Death, I had been the grim reaper myself over at a friend's text RPG board. One day, just to be silly, I had Death come walking into the standard D&D style tavern where most of the adventures began, take a seat at the bar, and order root beer and some pistachios. I meant it as a joke, but people liked the character and so for several years I was Death. He would show up and do something zany, then run off to collect the souls from a border war or something. I even escorted the souls of characters who were killed to the afterlife if they PMed me and requested it. Later I came across Discworld and found that someone had beaten me to the punch. But still my Death was sufficiently different that I didn't feel too bad. I enjoyed seeing Pratchett's version on the screen though, because that's pretty much how I always figured mine would look if he were walking around. Hey, it's a skeleton in a robe. Duh.

Happy Hogswatch!

Well the Christmas DVD viewing began yesterday afternoon with an unexpected feature. While browsing at Borders yesterday morning I was surprised and pleased to find a US version of the DVD of last year's UK production Hogfather. For those of you unfamiliar with Hogfather, he's the Santa Claus analog in Terry Pratchett's Discworld books. He brings presents to kids on Hogswatchnight.(The 32nd of Dec.) Think Santa with nasty tempered hogs pulling his sleigh instead of Reindeer and you've basically got it.
Anyway, the plot is about the insidious plans of the Auditors, a group of mystical accountants who are in charge of running reality, to get rid of Hogfather. The auditors don't like mythical creatures. (Or really much of anyone or anything, come to think of it.) They employ an assassins guild to do away with the fat man. The assassin sent for the job is the psychotic Mr. Teatime, (pronounced Tee-a-ti-meh) who starts out by attacking the stronghold of the tooth fairy. Why? That would be telling.
Anyway, Death gets involved, trying to save his fellow anthropomorphic personification by impersonating him in order to encourage belief in Hogfather. The sight of the grim reaper, dressed in Father Christmas robes and flying about delivering toys has to be seen. Meanwhile Death's granddaughter, Susan, gets involved and sets out to find out what has become of Hogfather. It's rather complicated.
I have to admit, I wondered how the makers of the show would get in all the back story necessary for the uninitiated to understand Discworld. They basically didn't worry about it. They just tell the story and you have to keep up.
One thing I didn't realize was that the show was 189 minutes long and broken up into two parts. I guess it originally aired that way in the UK. I ended up only watching half of it yesterday and will probably watch the other half tonight. Made for a nice Christmas surprise, as I had wanted to see the movie since hearing about it last year.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Sunday Evening with Elric

Just finished a re-read of 'While the Gods Laughed', the middle novelette in Michael Moorcock's Weird of the White Wolf, the third 'novel' in the original series of six Elric books. I use quotation marks because Weird, like the other Elric books, isn't actually a novel, but a collection of novellas or novelettes. The Elric books, as they were printed in the mid 1970s, tended to be about 60,000 words and generally were made up of three 20,000 word sections or sometimes four 15,000 word segments.
Anyway, this is the story where Elric first meets his sidekick Moonglum, the little man with the twin swords, the red hair, and the big mouth. Elric is on a quest for the Dead Gods Book, a tome that might hold the key to his escaping his dependency on the demon blade, Stormbringer. If you're not familiar with Elric, he's an albino, sickly and weak in his normal state, who is given superhuman power by a symbiotic relationship with his rune carved black blade. Stormbringer drains the souls of anyone it kills, and unfortunately the vampiric sword is just as happy to kill friends as enemies.
I consider Michael Moorcock to be one of the true originals of the sword & sorcery field, because rather then writing about a Conan clone, as many of the other S&S writers were content to do, Mike created a sort of 'anti-Conan'. Where Conan is huge and powerful, Elric is slight and weak. Where Conan hates and fears sorcery, Elric is a powerful mage. The stories of Elric take place in a dark world, similar to Conan's Hyborian age, but closer perhaps in spirit to the world of Poul Anderson's The Broken Sword or possibly Jack Vance's Dying Earth. Moorcock, who claims to hate world building sketches in the details of The Young Kingdoms as he goes.
'Gods' is a fast paced story with plenty of action, monsters, and the touches of strangeness that are particularly Moorcockian. If you haven't read the Elric stories in a while, dig em up. They remain some of the best heroic fantasy yarns available. And if you don't have copies handy, don't worry. Starting in February of 2008 Del Rey books will begin reprinting all the Elric material in a series of illustrated trade paperbacks patterned after the recent Robert E. Howard volumes. These will contain lots of nifty features such as articles, interviews, comic book scripts and all kinds of previously unpublished material. I'm looking forward to getting them.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

I have cleaned the bathroom, washed the dishes, and made some effort at straightening up the living room. That's about as productive as I feel today. Later I might talk myself into doing some laundry but that will probably wait until tomorrow. Saturday isn't turning out to be a very entertaining day so far...

Friday, December 14, 2007

Morning Thoughts

Saw a shooting star this morning. That's always kind of nifty. Reminded me of one night years ago when I was out late and happened to look up as I got home, just in time to see a meteorite shower. For a moment I wondered if earth was being invaded as falling star after falling star hurtled across the night sky.
This was one of those mornings when I woke up and my brain said, "Gee, I'm glad it's Saturday." Then, about four seconds later it said, "It's not Saturday, you idiot. It's Friday! Now get up and go to work so you can make money and buy me some protein!"
Stupid pushy brain...

So, it's like a week before Christmas. I have bought all of my presents, though I have yet to wrap any of them. I'd better do that before Bruce comes to visit because I can't even read a newspaper without him attacking it, so I imagine trying to wrap packages won't go well.
Haven't really done anything Christmassy as of yet. Haven't even dug out my Frank Sinatra Christmas CD, which is my default Christmas soundtrack. Maybe I'll watch some sort of Christmas movie this weekend, but somehow I doubt it. Usually save all that for the weekend before Christmas. My Standard Christmas films are two different versions of a Christmas Carol and The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle, which is the Sherlock Holmes Christmas story. Sometimes I will add How the Grinch Stole Christmas, (the cartoon, not the movie) Miracle on 34th Street, and A Christmas Story. Oh, and I have three Doctor Who Christmas specials, two of which I've never seen.
Looking at my Christmas posts for last year I see that I never managed to get into the proper Christmas spirit and hoped that this year would go better. So far it hasn't. I'm not down about the Holidays or anything. Just not terribly interested.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

A Gentle Madness

I'm not sure why I always have to be collecting something. I think your mind either works that way or it doesn't. Part of it is the thrill of the hunt. It's fun to be looking for things, tracking them down, seeing what kind of deals you can find. Mostly though, in my case, my collecting manias, which are almost invariably of the printed variety, seem to be driven by love of whatever I'm collecting. In that way I'm probably not a serious collector. I don't want the things simply to have them. I want to read and re-read them. In fact, if I can get my hands on a reprint, I'm just as happy, perhaps more happy with that than with an original. That's why I'm having so much fun with the DC Showcase volumes. I can read Green Lantern, Flash, Hawkman, The Atom, and so many others from the very beginning and I don't have to own thousands of dollars worth of comics. They're always there on the bookshelf whenever I want them, and if I spill coffee on them, I just go and buy another volume. They're cheap.
That said, there are some comics that aren't likely to be reprinted, and thus if I want to read them (and I do) I have to hunt down the originals. Case in point. The Dell/Gold Key Tarzan comics. These are of course, a double whammy for me, because I like Comics and I like Tarzan. Two manias at once! The facts that Dell and Gold Key are long out of business, at least where comics are concerned, and that Edgar Rice Burroughs Inc seems to have little interest in reprinting much of anything, make it unlikely that the mass amounts of Tarzan comics will ever show up in cheap reprint editions.
I've mentioned in previous posts that my mother collected Tarzan comics, and that she eventually gave her stack of 50 or so issues to me. Over time I've added to that collection, more than doubling it, but there are still quite a few of the Dell issues that I don't have. The Dell/Gold Key run was a little over 200 issues, not counting annuals and specials. I haven't counted recently but I probably have about 125 of them. Unlike my obsession with The Savage Sword of Conan, I'm not rushing to complete the collection. I just look for deals, and when I see them, I snatch them up. I've bought 11 more issues in the last two days. Just got lucky at Ebay and saw someone who had a nice lot at a reasonable price and who wasn't trying to gouge me with shipping.
My best bit of luck came a few years back when I won a couple of Ebay bids and found that the seller of the comics was local. (In Atlanta). I emailed and said I was a fellow Georgia resident and the lady emailed back that she had a bunch more Tarzan comics she hadn't listed and if I wanted I could just buy them rather than her putting them on Ebay. She sent me a list and I bought most of what she had that day. The gems of that lot were all but one issue of Tarzan's Jungle Annual, which were these huge 60 page comics filled with brand new stories. These are some of the most collectible and expensive of the Dell Tarzan's and I got them for a song. The punch line is, the one annual I didn't get, Cliff gave me for Christmas that same year.
So anyway, I'm watching a couple more issues on Ebay right now. Hope I get em.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Reading Report

Let's see, what have I been reading? Finished up volume two of the Collected Letters of Robert E. Howard. Lots and lots of letters to H.P. Lovecraft in this one and more references to Conan than I'd hoped for. Viewed in hindsight there are a lot more clues to Howard's impending suicide as well, including one out of the blue note to a friend asking him to contact certain people in the event of Howard's sudden death. Crime writer Ross MacDonald titled one of his novels The Goodbye Look, theorizing that people who were headed knowingly towards their own demise had a certain look about them. I often think of that in relation to REH.
Re-read School Daze, one of the more solid recent entries in Robert B. Parker's Spenser series. This one profited, I think, from the absences of Spenser's girlfriend Susan Silverman and his primary sidekick, Hawk. Good to see Spenser handling things solo for a change. His constant conversations with Susan get a bit repetitive after a while.
Whitney loaned me a Doctor Who novel called Only Human. I usually stay clear of media tie-in books but this one was a lot of fun. The author, while not a scriptwriter for the Doctor Who series, is a writer for British television and the plot and dialog in this book are pretty close to what one would expect from an episode of the show. His characterizations of The Doctor, Captain Jack Harkness, and Rose Tyler are pretty well done. Speaking of Rose, I had one of my weird dreams the other night where Rose and I were being attacked by three winged demons on top of temple, high above a city something like ancient Mesopotamia. Dunno where the Doctor was, but I could have used some back up. Actually I could have used Conan. I think my genres are getting mixed up again.
Last night I read another Ki-Gor novella, The Devil's Deathtrap. In this one, Ki-Gor runs across the remaining survivors of a race of Gorillas who have human level intelligence. They can talk and they live in a city and of course they are EVIL!! They plan to use their less intelligent brethren to form a great conquering army. Ki-Gor leaps into the fray of course, ending up in an arena where he must face the 800 pound leader of the evil simians in a hand to hand fight to the death.
Ki-Gor's wife Helene gets captured again in this one, but she also saves Ki-Gor's life near the end of the story. Unlike a lot of pulp heroines of the time, Helene is generally pretty capable of taking care of herself. After living with Ki-Gor for years, she can swing through the trees as well as he can, she can outswim him, and she has no problem with snatching up knife, spear, or sword, and wading into battle right beside her jungle lord hubby. And of course she looks really hot in her leopard skin halter and booty shorts. Fiction House was known for their cheesecake covers, both on their pulp magazines and their comic books. Helene is often more prominent on the covers of Jungle Stories than Ki-Gor. There are a couple of covers where Ki-Gor doesn't even appear.
Read a couple more horror short stories by Ramsey Campbell and was again impressed with his originality and his skill at developing mood. I've been spacing the stories out, but I'm coming toward the end of the collection Alone with the Horrors. Wish I'd had this one at Halloween.
Guess that's about it for this edition of the reading report. I think all of these are going to come in handy in January when I make my picks for best books of 2007.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

I just this moment realized that Robert E. Howard and I have the same Zodiac sign, Aquarius. I don't have any belief in Astrology, but I do find that kind of cool.
Trish and I were talking the other night and she put forth the theory that the reason I've been feeling restless and unfocused lately is that I've reached all my goals. I went into to 2007 ready to get some stuff done and pursued those goals with my usual single mindedness. Now the goals have been reached, and I haven't come up with any new ones.
"So what's the next big adventure for you?" Trish asked.
Truthfully I don't know. I've been considering going to tech school to get full Autodesk certification. That's kind of like the holy grail for AutoCad users. Full certification with Autodesk opens all kinds of doors on the job market. Not that I really want to go and get another job right now, but I'd like to have the skills. Plus, I'm thinking down the line I'd like to perhaps become an AutoCad instructor and I'll need the certification for that.
I've also been trying to think of some trips I could take next year and I have an idea or two. All my travel plans for 2007 didn't work out, and I haven't taken a real, honest to gosh vacation in about six years now. Just a few short trips.
Anyway, I'm apparently in an introspective mood this morning as the new year approaches. Just wondering what to do and where to go next...

Charles Cooks Again

I had decided I would try and make some breakfast burritos this morning, so Friday I picked up some soft tortillas from the Spanish Foods section at my local supermarket. Now keep in mind, I had no recipe or anything so I was just winging it. I scrambled some egg beaters and cooked some turkey sausage. I had the tortillas ready and when everything was cooked I ladled eggs into the tortillas, added sausage, a generous portion of shredded Jack and Cheddar cheeses, some black pepper and a spoonful of salsa.
Extremely tasty. I'll be having those again.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Hither Came Conan...

Ah, here we go. Page 329 of the Collected Letters of Robert E. Howard, Volume II. In a letter to H.P. Lovecraft dated April, 1932Howard says:

"I've been working on a new character, providing him with a new epoch_The Hyborian Age which men have forgotten, but which remains in classical names and distorted myths. Wright rejected most of the series, but I did sell him one_'The Phoenix on the Sword,' which deals with the adventures of King Conan the Cimmerian, in the kingdom of Aquilonia."

And there you have it. Conan arrives in the world. "Most of the series" referred to two other stories. The Frost Giant's Daughter and The God in the Bowl. Howard had sent all three at the same time and Farnsworth Wright had rejected two of the trio. It's somewhat interesting to note that "The Phoenix on the Sword" was a rewrite of an earlier Kull story, "By This Axe I Rule", so the first published Conan story was made from a story featuring another Howard character. Neither of the rejected stories would see professional publication in Howard's life time. Frost Giant's Daughter, retitled to Gods of the North appeared in a fanzine, and The God in the Bowl had to wait for the Conan revival of the 1960s to see print. Humble beginnings for what would become Howard's best known character.
Gee, I've been really boring this week. Sorry. It happens.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Weekend Report

I'm at about 80% this morning. This head cold has been very stubborn and just doesn't seem to want to go away. I thought the worst of it was over on Friday, but Saturday it moved back up into my head again and I had two days of nose blowing. That's somewhat better this morning, but it didn't make for a pleasant weekend and I don't feel much rested. Hopefully another couple of days will see the rest of it go away. Oh well, at least I can talk in a normal, if somewhat nasal, voice.
So the weekend was basically a wash. I just lounged around the apartment, reading, watching movies, and surfing the internet. Oh and napping. I can always tell when I'm sick because I actually sleep a lot.
So what did I watch? Well someone loaned me the Transformers movie so I finally watched that. I was impressed with the special effects, but otherwise didn't find the movie too enthralling. I have no nostalgia for those toys since I was too old to play with them when they came out and I didn't watch the cartoons or read the comic books. No connection.
Re-watched Mirrormask, the Neil Gaiman/Dave Mckean fantasy film. I like the movie, though the plot becomes a little thin on repeated viewings. Mckean managed to make the film look like his artwork which is pretty impressive. I noted this time how Mirrormask is almost an updated version of the Wizard of Oz in many ways. A young girl, dissatisfied with her life, dreams her way into a strange land where she must defeat an evil witch and save the land, before returning to her own world and an ambiguous ending that never clearly shows if her journey was a dream or not.
Also re-watched Pitch Black, the independent SF/Horror film that introduced the world to Richard B. Riddick. Pitch Black remains one of my favorite horror movies. The idea of monsters that can only exist in darkness somehow harkens back to childhood fears. As long as you stay in the light, they can't get you. But what if there wasn't any light? The movie also plays with stereotypes and manages to be somewhat unpredictable in terms of who will survive the long night. I wish that the sequel, The Chronicles of Riddick, had done better at the box office so that the third Riddick film would have been produced. Doesn't look good though, from what I hear.
Reading-wise I read some more in the Collected Letters of Robert E. Howard, an entire issue of Ellery Queen's mystery magazine, 500 plus pages of Supergirl reprints in the DC Showcase Supergirl volume, and some more short stories by Ramsey Campbell, Ed Hoch, Robert E. Howard, Fritz Lieber, and others. Oh, and I re-read The People that Time Forgot by Edgar Rice Burroughs.
So anyway, that was the weekend. Hopefully the next one will be a bit more entertaining.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

You know, now that I think of it. Postcards From the Outer Dark is a great story title.

Postcards From the Outer Dark

I'm a little more than 100 pages into the second volume of the Collected Letters of Robert E. Howard, and finding it far more fascinating than volume one. Though I enjoyed the first volume from a biographical standpoint, most of the letters in that book were to Howard's Texas friends and dealt mostly with his day to day life and only had limited information about his writing since he was just beginning to sell to the pulps.That said, toward the end of that volume we do see the beginnings of two of his most famous creations, King Kull and Solomon Kane.
Volume two finds Howard firmly in the land of professional writing. He's selling steadily to Weird Tales and other markets and he's beginning to create some of his other series characters. There are a couple of interesting letters about his "new" character, Turlough Dubh O'Brien, who appears in The Dark Man and the Gods of Bal-Sagoth. He also talks about the story 'The Voice of El-Lil" which he sold to Oriental Stories, the recently established companion magazine to Weird Tales. Howard had great hopes for OS because it was a market for his favorite type of story, historical fiction. There he didn't have to worry about adding any supernatural elements to his stories to sell them to Weird Tales. Unfortunately the magazine was to be short lived.
And this is the volume where Howard begins his famous correspondence with noted horror writer and fellow Weird Tales contributor, H. P. Lovecraft. Howard wrote a glowing letter of praise for Lovecraft's work to WT editor Farnsworth Wright, and Wright forwarded it to Lovecraft, who wrote directly to Howard. Lovecraft was perhaps the world's champion letter writer, reportedly scribbling well over one hundred thousand missives to his various correspondents. I have often wondered what Lovecraft would have done with the internet. He probably would have never left home and simply emailed people all day and his blog would be updated even more than mine.
It's fun to see Howard question Lovecraft about the backgrounds of Cthulhu, the Necronomicon, and other aspects of Lovecraft's stories, only to find that HPL made it all up. There's also a letter where Howard mentions that he'll join the game and start dropping references to Cthulhu and the other Great Old Ones into his own fiction. We're seeing the beginnings of legends here, folks.
It's kind of frustrating to only read half of the correspondences between REH and HPL. I do own a couple of the Arkham House editions of the Letters of H.P. Lovecraft so I know what HPL's responses to some of Howard's letters were, but I'd really like to see someone publish a volume that contained both REH's and HPL's letters. That would be a lot of fun.
Anyway, I know that this volume ends about the time that Howard was creating Conan, so I'm enjoying seeing the seeds that would lead to the big Cimmerian's genesis. Howard is pulling together the strands that would eventually lead him to pioneer his own brand of heroic fantasy and beginning to find his own unique voice as a writer. Great stuff.

Friday, November 30, 2007

The Other Jungle Lord

They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. If that's the case then Edgar Rice Burroughs should feel very very flattered indeed, for he is one of the most imitated writers of all time. His best know creation, Tarzan of the Apes, has spawned any number of second string jungle lords, from Kwa to Kazar, and from Jann to Kioga. We won't even get into Sheena and the other female versions.
Few of these knockoffs had long lives, most appearing in only one or two stories in the heyday of the pulps.(Though Kazar got a second chance in a slightly altered form in Marvel Comics) The one exception to the rule was the star of the Fiction House pulp magazine Jungle stories, Ki-Gor the Jungle Lord. Ki-Gor appeared in no less than 59 stories over the run of Jungle Stories, an especially impressive number when you consider that Edgar Rice Burroughs only wrote 24 Tarzan books. The Ki-Gor stories are shorter, usually running about 50-60 thousand words, but still. it's an impressive record given the lack of success for the other Tarzan wannabes.
In his book, The Great Pulp Heroes, Don Hutchinson proposes a likely theory for Ki-Gor's success. Where most of the other jungle lords were only similar to Tarzan, Ki-Gor, for all intents and purposes, WAS Tarzan. There were surface differences of course. Ki-Gor was blond where Tarzan's hair was black. Ki-gor's wife was a redhead named Helene instead of a blonde named Jane. But the basic concept, a white man raised in the jungle who becomes the lord of that jungle and has adventures in lost cities and such, was essentially the same. Readers of the pulps in those days couldn't get enough of Tarzan, and Ki-Gor was a good substitute.
One of the other differences was that Ki-Gor's adventures were more action oriented, being closer in spirit to another pulp hero. Doc Savage. He even had his own version of the bickering Savage aides, Monk and Ham in Tembu George, a gigantic Masai warrior, and N'geeso, the pigmy. These two were savage fighters and always seemed to be on the verge of killing each other, though in truth, either would have died to save the other man.
Adventure House, a pulp reprint publisher, is currently reprinting the Ki-Gor adventures in their magazine High Adventure. I picked up the latest issue this week, and while I was home sick yesterday, I read The Silver Witch, one of the two Ki-Gor stories in that issue. In this one, Ki-Gor discovers yet another lost city and must battle the mutant minions of the beautiful but evil Silver Queen, She really is silver too, having been mutated by the weird elements bubbling up from the soil in her lost realm. Very fun with lots of action.
Ki-Gor has started appearing in some new adventures too, from the folks at Wildcat books. Wildcat specializes in pulp style adventures and has recently been bringing back some old pulp characters who have fallen into public domain. Copyrights were never renewed on the Ki-Gor adventures and the character himself was never trademarked, so anyone can write new Ki-Gor adventures, unlike Tarzan who is still a trademarked character of Edgar Rice Burroughs Inc. You can write Ki-Gor. I can write Ki-Gor. All God's children can write Ki-Gor. And actually, I might get around to using the character at some point, though I have invented my own jungle lord recently.
Anyway, I can definitely recommend Ki-Gor to those who enjoy a fast paced jungle adventure. It ain't Tarzan, but it's probably the next best thing.
My head is less stopped up this morning, and I don't seem to be feverish, but I my throat is still sore and I have almost completely lost my voice, and when I can speak I sound like a troll at the bottom of a well. I have a deep voice anyway, and it only takes a little bit of a sore throat to make me sound like Vin Diesel on a bad day.
Anyway, I'm going to work this morning just in case any emergency drafting stuff has come up, but it's only a four hour day and after that it's back home to rest up. One thing I have learned is to just sit still when I'm sick. All the cold medicine in the world won't help unless I shift into low gear and just let my body heal itself up. At least it's the weekend. I read a couple of interesting things yesterday while I was home. Perhaps I'll blog about that later today.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Head Cold

Well, my traditional Holiday cold has come a little early this year. I've been feeling a little run down the last couple of days and my throat has been somewhat scratchy. Last night when I was out to dinner with the gang, my throat gradually became worse as we were talking. This morning I woke up sweating and had to throw my covers off and my throat has become very raw. Since I am apparently feverish and I'm more or less caught up at work, I will stay home today and not share my germs. Sitting here, typing this I can feel that I'm definitely warmer than I should be. Hopefully this will blow over quickly. Bleh.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Black Shape

Ah, the adventures of having a vivid imagination. Driving in to work this morning under a layer of dark clouds that scudded over a gibbous moon, I was jolted out of my morning reverie by seeing the car in front of me suddenly swerving to one side. Figuring there was some object in the road, I slowed down and got ready to dodge whatever obstruction presented itself. Turns out there was some...thing standing in the road. It was a massive black shape that didn't pick up any highlights from my low beams, almost as if it was a shadow rather than a solid thing. It lumbered out of the road as I got closer, blending into the pines that line the sides of the shadowy access road. Don't know if it was a bear or a really really big dog, but it was darned spooky out there in the scant moonlight. There's a story there somewhere...

Monday, November 26, 2007

My mother said I look like a bouncer. For some reasons that just cracks me up.

The Reading Report

Finally broke the novel barrier this weekend. Read Robert B. Parker's latest Spencer book, Now and Then. While a definite improvement over the last entry in the series, Hundred Dollar Baby, it's still nothing to write home about. Basically it seems like parts of a lot of other Spenser novels rearranged and stitched together to make this years commitment to his publisher. The dialog still sparkles and Parker has lost none of his trademark wit, but there's nothing to really make this one stand out.
I read several horror short stories by Ramsey Campbell, including 'Call First' which had been recommended as a particularly creepy one. It did have a nice, EC comics type jolt right at the end. Also read one of Campbell's completions of a Robert E. Howard Solomon Kane stories, Hawk of Bashti. I thought he did a pretty nice job with it.
I re-read Karl Edward Wagner's 'The Gothic Touch' and related material so I could write the rather lengthy essay that appears below. Karl's longtime friend John Mayer has put the essay up at the official KEW website, which is pretty cool.
I've begun Ruth Rendell's Inspector Wexford novel 'End In Tears' and it's off to a good start. More about that later. Cliff called to tell me that the second volume of the Collected Letters of Robert E. Howard has finally arrived so I'll be reading that soon. That's pretty much the reading report for now.
Well, the four day weekend has come and gone. I didn't get nearly as much done as I'd planned, which, as always, leaves me feeling a bit annoyed with myself here on Monday morning. I wanted to do more writing, but didn't have much luck. These are the days that I wonder why I even bother. The words don't come and I can't make them and I take it as some sort of personal failure. Or I do manage to write something and I end up not liking it. It's a strange endeavor. So I ignore it for a while and don't think about it, but I always come back to it, and eventually I write something I like and I recall how much fun that can be. But not right now. Now I am stuck with my fall back mantra. I have written well. I will write well again.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Gothic Touches in The Gothic Touch

The first Karl Edward Wagner story I ever read was The Gothic Touch. This was a crossover between Wagner's anti-hero Kane and Michael Moorcock's iconic albino, Elric of Melnibone, which appeared in an anthology of Elric stories called Tales of the White Wolf. At the time that I read it, I knew very little about Kane, Wagner, or the Gothic Novels of the eighteenth century. All that would soon change.
Like many people who hadn't actually read the Kane books, I assumed he was just another Conan knock-off. The Frank Frazetta covers of the Warner paperbacks did a lot to further this image, showing the usual sword & sorcery images of a big guy in armor fighting demons or just standing there looking dangerous. Reportedly, Wagner wasn't completely pleased with Frazetta's vision of Kane, but a Frazetta cover certainly didn't hurt sales in the mid 1970s.
As I began to track down and read the Kane stories though, I soon learned that Kane not only wasn't a Conan clone, he wasn't even a barbarian. He was instead, a staggeringly well read and intelligent man who had traveled his world for centuries and was able to discuss music, poetry, politics, and any number of subjects. He was also a born killer and completely amoral. He was, in fact, the biblical Cain, an immortal who must walk the world until slain by violence. And Kane is darn hard to slay.
In his essay, The Once and Future Kane, Karl Edward Wagner discusses the origins of his character. While Wagner admits to admiring and being somewhat influenced by the works of Conan's creator Robert E. Howard, he gives his primary influence as the Gothic Novels of the 1700s.
The Gothic genre got its start in 1765 with Horace Walpole's novel, the Castle of Otranto, the book that defined the genre and set up many of its tropes and conventions. It features a gloomy haunted castle, a brooding hero-villain, and much supernatural goings on. The next few years would see the novel become very influential and imitated. The scope of the genre is too wide for me to get into here, but the recognized classics of the genre, what Wagner calls' 'The Standard Four' are Otranto, Mathew Lewis's The Monk(1796), Ann Radcliffe's The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794) and Charles Maturin's Melmoth the Wanderer (which comes in a little late in 1820).
It was Maturin's work which would be the biggest influence of the creation of Kane. Wagner says, "If I had to pick the book that shaped Kane into the character he is, it would have to be Melmoth the Wanderer. Melmoth, a doomed wanderer who trails catastrophe and misfortune in his footsteps, immortal so long as he can find another soul willing to sacrifice itself willingly for his sake...I don't know how Kane would have taken shape without Melmoth, but he would be a different character if I hadn't read Maturin."
Not that Kane is in any way a copy of Melmoth or the Gothic Wagner's only influence in the development of his writing. Wagner goes on to list many other writers who influenced his work, including C.L. Moore, Poul Anderson, Robert W. Chambers, Manly Wade Wellman, and others.
As I noted, at the time that I first read the Kane stories, I wasn't that familiar with the Gothic Novel genre and thus missed a lot of the references Wagner was making. It was reading Jess Nevin's The Encyclopedia of Fantastic Victoriana, with its history of the Gothic and its summaries of the plots of the major Gothics that got me seriously interested in the subject. Once I began to study the genre I began to see what Wagner had been trying for in much of his work. An invaluable resource was The Literary Gothic webpage. (see link at bottom of post) This site has hundreds of articles, stories and links to further reading. Of particular interest was a list of Gothic tropes included with Lilia Melani's 'The Gothic Experience" a course related website from Brooklyn College.

* a castle, ruined or intact, haunted or not,
* ruined buildings which are sinister or which arouse a pleasing melancholy,
* dungeons, underground passages, crypts, and catacombs which, in modern houses, become spooky basements or attics,
* labyrinths, dark corridors, and winding stairs,
* shadows, a beam of moonlight in the blackness, a flickering candle, or the only source of light failing (a candle blown out or an electric failure),
* extreme landscapes, like rugged mountains, thick forests, or icy wastes, and extreme weather,
* omens and ancestral curses,
* magic, supernatural manifestations, or the suggestion of the supernatural,
* a passion-driven, willful villain-hero or villain,
* a curious heroine with a tendency to faint and a need to be rescued–frequently,
* a hero whose true identity is revealed by the end of the novel,
* horrifying (or terrifying) events or the threat of such happenings.

Many of these themes show up over and over in the Kane stories. Ruined or partially ruined castles feature prominently in Misericorde, Lynortis Reprise, Reflections for the Winter of My Soul, Mirage, and of course, The Gothic Touch. (See, I was going somewhere with all of this.) In fact, the Gothic Touch is practically a catalog of all of the above and I suspect purposely so. It almost seems as if Wagner was winking at us, wondering if anyone would catch all the Gothic references. Let's look at the list alongside the story. (There are some spoilers here, so if you intend to read The Gothic Touch, go read it, then come back. You've been warned.)

A castle, ruined or intact, haunted or not. In the first few paragraphs, Elric suggests that he and Moonglum take shelter from pursuing enemies in a nearby ruined castle that is reputed to be haunted. That covers item two as well.

Dungeons, underground passages, crypts, and catacombs. After explaining to Elric that he needs his help o recover a treasure fallen from the sky, Kane leads the albino and his sidekick Moonglum into a stairwell that leads into an underground passage and then into a maze of tunnels. They pass through a dungeon torture chamber that is described in loving detail.

Shadows, a beam of moonlight in the blackness, a flickering candle, or the only source of light failing. Elric and Moonglum are attacked by weird mutant creatures who knock over Elric's lamp and threaten to do the same to Moonglum's which would leave the two heroes in the dark with the creatures.

Extreme landscapes, like rugged mountains, thick forests, or icy wastes, and extreme weather. The ruined castle is located amidst rocky terrain, and a massive thunderstorm rages as the story begins.

Omens and ancestral curses. The original inhabitants of the castle are said to have raised a demon to guard the treasure that fell from the sky. Also, the hideous mutant creatures that live underground are thought to be the decedents of survivors of a battle between the castle owners and an army of treasure seekers.

Magic, supernatural manifestations, or the suggestion of the supernatural. Hello? It's Elric and Kane.

A passion-driven, willful villain-hero or villain. Hello again? It's Kane!

A curious heroine with a tendency to faint and a need to be rescued–frequently. Okay, Wagner skipped that one.

A hero whose true identity is revealed by the end of the novel. Not his identity so much as his true motives are revealed as we learn that most of what Kane told Elric was a lie. He covered up the extra-terrestrial origins and the true nature of the 'treasure' so that Elric would help him.

Horrifying (or terrifying) events or the threat of such happenings. Pretty much from the first paragraph to the last.

This is a wonderful story filled with a lot of dark humor as Kane and Elric fence verbally and a lot of sword wielding action as well. I believe that it was the last Kane story that Wagner wrote, and if so, he went out on a high note, using as many of the tropes of a beloved genre as he could work in. There's more than a touch of the Gothic in The Gothic Touch.

Now go check out the Literary Gothic web page. Tell em Kane sent you.

Friday, November 23, 2007

The Department of Lost Barbarians: Ryre

Technically speaking, Ramsey Campbell's Ryre isn't a barbarian, but rather a mercenary swordsman of somewhat murky origins, however his adventures are suitably sword & sorcery-ish to get him included in the DoLB.
I've already mentioned his first adventure, The Sustenance of Hoak from Swords against Darkness volume 1. Ryre has three more adventures in further volumes of Swords Against Darkness, The Pit of Wings, The Changer of Names, and The Mouths of Light. Hoak is probably the strongest of the lot, with Pit next in line.
All four share two attributes in that they are all primarily horror stories with action added to the mix and that all feature menaces you've never seen before. One of Ramsey Campbell's stated goals as a writer is to not repeat himself and to not write about the same old things. He succeeds admirably, both in the tales of Ryre and in his horror fiction. I've read about half the stories in the collection, Alone with the Horrors, and I've yet to run into anything trite or overused. Campbell has a lot of original and disturbing ideas. It's nice to see a writer who isn't satisfied to just fall back on the same old tropes.
I find it a little disappointing that there are no more Ryre stories. They're some of the more effective sword & sorcery tales I've read in a long time. Campbell has reportedly written at least four other heroic fantasy stories, but none of these feature Ryre as the protagonist. All four Ryre tales and the other four fantasy stories are collected in a small book called Far Away and Never published by Necronomicon Press in 1995. I've got a copy on the way.
I also discovered while researching Campbell, that he completed three of Robert E. Howard's Solomon Kane fragments. I'm not usually one for anyone finishing up fragments in this way, but I figure Campbell can pull it off if anyone can. And as it turns out, I already own the edition that the stories appear in. It was sitting in a stack of REH paperbacks I'd bought a while back. I'd just never looked at it carefully because the Del Rey edition of Solomon Kane is now the definitive one.


This Thanksgiving went much better than last year. My family and I went to the assisted living home to visit my grandmother again but this year the home let us use their arts and crafts room so we were able to pull some tables together and all sit down to eat breakfast together almost as if we were still at Ma Bess's house. We had brought food and coffee and orange juice, so it went very well.
That afternoon I went to my brother's house and my sister in law had outdone herself in terms of cooking, so I fulfilled the thanksgiving tradition of eating entirely too much and then going home to sleep it off.
I made a pretty comprehensive list in last year's blog post of the things I am thankful for, and looking at it, I see that it hasn't changed much, so I won't spend time amending it. I will say, after looking at it again, that I am often more fortunate than I deserve, and I'm thankful for that.

Monday, November 19, 2007

The Doctors Are In

There's a nice little postscript to Doctor Who Season 3 wandering around Youtube. In this short vignette, filmed as part of the UK's Children in Need fund raiser, David Tennant, the current Doctor is visited inside his Tardis by Peter Davidson, the fifth actor to play the Doctor. It's a clever little story where the two Doctors have to solve a small crisis and get to antagonize each other. There's a nice bit where the current Doctor gets to tell his former self that "I loved being you. You were MY Doctor."
This is nice because Peter Davidson was the Doctor when Tennant was eleven years old and watching Doctor Who on the BBC. Davidson was Tennent's first Doctor. Coincidentally enough, Davidson was MY first Doctor as well. The first episode of the series I ever saw was Castrovalva, which was shown on my local PBS station. It was the first full episode to feature Davidson as the Doctor, following Tom Baker's long run on the series. I watched Davidson's entire run before ever seeing an episode with Baker, John Pertwee or anyone else, so he remains the Doctor to me. Almost a quarter of a century since he was on the show, he still looks about the same in his costume. A little older. A little heavier. But still the Doctor. Still MY Doctor.

The Doctor is Out

Well I'm all out of Doctor Who, or at least the regular episodes of season 3. I still have the Christmas special to watch. Season three held up to my expectations and was probably the best written season so far. I won't summarize any episodes but I will mention that the final three-part season ender is amazingly ambitious in terms of scope. It's almost a feature film in of itself. The series ends with an emotional cliff hanger rather than a physical one, which is fitting because the relationships between the various characters continue to be the focus of the show amidst all the monsters and the mayhem. Anyway, now I have to wait a year to watch Season four. Either that or get BBC America or the sci fi channel. I'll probably just wait and get the DVDs. I like being able to watch the whole season in short order.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Towering Adventure

Yesterday I was re-reading Fritz Lieber's Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser story, The Howling Tower, and I started wondering why so many Sword & Sorcery stories have to do with towers. In addition to Lieber's tale there is Robert E. Howard's seminal S&S story featuring Conan, The Tower of the Elephant, and a mysterious tower also figures in Howard's non-Conan story, The Garden of Fear.
Michael Moorcock weighs in with the Elric novella, The Vanishing Tower and L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter send Conan to yet another tower in their pastiche, The Gem in the Tower, then each man writes his own tower centered novel, de Camp's The Goblin Tower, and Carter's The Tower at the Edge of Time.
Conan comics scribe Roy Thomas gets into the act with The Strange High Tower in the Mist in Marvel Comics' Conan the Barbarian comic. Of that story, Thomas says, “Issue #56 was a potboiler. It had elements of a typical Conan story, including a monster and a tower.”
So what is it about towers? Well avoiding the obvious Freudian symbolism, I think that towers are somehow linked in our minds with magic. Most wizards in fairy tales live in towers. Rapunzel was imprisoned in a tower and so was sleeping beauty. Think of the Disney castle and you see soaring towers with banners fluttering in the breeze. The image is romantic and evocative of adventures 'beyond the fields we know'. Towers are just plain cool. I think I need to write a story with a tower in it.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

But if You Try Sometime, You Just Might Find

I swung by Doctor No's today to pick up some books I'd ordered through Amazon. (I have all my packages sent to Cliff's store because my local mail person kept losing packages sent to my apartment.) Anyway, I was hoping for my Ramsey Campbell collection, but of course of the three books I'd ordered, that's the one that didn't show.
I was talking to Cliff about it, and I said. "You don't have any books by Ramsey Campbell here do you?" Over the years, various SF, Fantasy, and Horror books have accumulated at the store. Dr. No's is primarily a Comic Book and Gaming shop but Cliff also stocks some books that are related to those industries, and sometimes he just stocks things he likes and thinks you should like too. He has a fairly extensive group of books by and about H.P. Lovecraft and Campbell falls into that circle so I thought I'd ask.
"Hmm," said Cliff. "I might."
We walked over to the area where the books are displayed and right near the top was a copy, not of the book I'm waiting on, but of a Campbell book that was next on my list to order, Alone With the Horrors, which is supposed to be the best collection of Campbell's horror shorts.
"Hey, that's just the book I wanted!" I said.
Cliff chuckled because he's always happy when he has things people want, and it really was kind of funny that the very book I needed was the one that was sitting on the shelf. Cliff referenced a Stephen King story about the little store that had a very small stock of things but the one thing it always had was the one thing you needed the most.
I thought back to my pal Chris's theory that I actually control reality, but only when I'm not trying. For years it seemed that whenever I wanted something to happen, it did, but only if I just sort of mentioned it in passing. Like I'd say, "Gee I wish someone would reprint Gil Kane's Black Mark stories in one volume, and a month later, that book would appear. But it only works if I'm not trying. Like right now, if I suddenly wish I would receive a million dollars, it won't happen because I am consciously trying to use the power. It must be a completely innocent idea. Of course Chris also thinks that I have the psychic ability to kill aging movie stars, but that's another story...

Friday, November 16, 2007

Reading Report Redux

I find that I'm still not in the mood for novel reading, or possibly I just haven't found the right novel. I started the sixth Women's Murder Club book by James Patterson and Andrew Vachss' new thriller, but just couldn't get into either. I think that has more to do with me than the two authors. I put both books aside and will try again later. I've read my way through most of the stories in the five volumes of Swords Against Darkness, leaving only one of the Ramsey Campbell Ryre stories to go. That's been my favorite series in the anthologies. I ordered a collection of Campbell's stories from Amazon which should arrive soon.
Wednesday I picked up The Metatemporal Detective, Michael Moorcock's collection of stories about Sir Seaton Begg, who solves mysteries in the various parallel dimensions of the Multiverse. There are three stories that I haven't read in that volume. Might read some of that this weekend.
I should probably start looking around for some Christmas reading. I like to read stories set at Christmas, particularly mysteries. I think Anne Perry has a new short Christmas novel out, come to think of it.
In the meantime, I'm doing a re-read of Mark Finn's biography of Robert E. Howard. I'm planning on getting Steve Martin's memoir 'Born Standing Up' which looked very interesting. Couple of other things on the horizon but nothing I'm just dying to read. If you've been following this blog for a while you know that sometimes I read one book after another, just tearing through them for weeks at a time. Then I'll hit slow periods like this one, where I tend to read a lot of short stories and non-fiction. Reading is a constant, but the quantity does vary.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

I have purchased eight of the eleven Christmas gifts that I need for the Season as of today and I have the other three in the works. Go ahead and hate me. Everyone at work does now that they know...

Monday, November 12, 2007

Entertaining Myself

Some of you know I can sing, you've actually heard me. Some of you have even heard my Elvis impression which has been described as "scarily on target." One of the things that I do to entertain myself when I'm driving is to sing songs in Elvis's voice that he never actually sang. Some work and some don't. Today I was singing Nirvana's Heart Shaped Box.

She eyes me like a Pisces when I am weak
I've been locked inside your heart-shaped box for weeks
I've been drawn into your magnet tar pit trap
I wish I could eat your cancer when you turn back

You don't know what fun is until you imagine the King singing 'eat your cancer'. Actually this one would have been pretty good for Elvis. Cranks up nicely at the chorus. Works much better than Nine Inch Nails' Closer, I can tell you.

Weekend Report

The weekend was fairly calm. I met Trish for lunch Saturday at El Rodeo, the same Mexican restaurant where I have dinner with the Doctor No's gang every Wednesday, so it was a double Mex week for me. After lunch I stopped by the store and chatted with Buck, Whitney, and Julie for a bit. That was pretty much the extent of my social activity for the weekend.
Sunday I read some more short stories and actually did some writing. I wrote about half of a new short story and tinkered with a couple of other works in progress. As a result I felt much better this morning than I often do on Mondays. I find I don't hate Mondays quite as badly if I feel that I accomplished something constructive over the weekend. And if I did some writing I was actually pleased with, well that's the best.
I also ordered some used books from Amazon. A collection of Ramsey Campbell's short stories and the first volumes in two sword & sorcery series that I wasn't familiar with. I don't have high hopes for either, but you never know.
Beyond that I did the usual web surfing and emailing folks and such. Just a standard weekend in Kennesaw, really.
Oh and I watched some more Doctor Who of course. This season isn't going to last long I can tell...

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Thinking Man's Heroes

One of the things that I like best about the Doctor is that he stands for reason in the face of chaos. The Doctor is almost always up against some foe that he can't possibly beat on a physical level. Robots. Giant monsters. Aliens. Armies of Daleks. There's no way he can fight his way clear so what does he have to do? He has to think his way out of trouble.
In this he reminds me of one of my other favorite heroes, Adam Strange. Adam was an earth man, transported to the distant planet Rann where he was forced to fight one super powered menace after another. Armed with only a jet pack and a ray gun, Adam was always far outclassed by the various aliens and monsters he came up against. But being a thinking man of action, Adam always managed to find a way to beat his foes. He out thought them.
DC Comics has recently published one of their Showcase volumes of Adam Strange reprints. Over 500 pages for $19.95. If you've never read them, I highly recommend the series. Wonderful SF stories and great art by Mike Sekowsky, Carmine Infantino, Gil Kane, and Murphy Anderson

Friday, November 09, 2007

The Doctor is In

I picked up the third season of the new Doctor Who on DVD yesterday. Truth to tell I was a little concerned that I might not like it as much as the previous two seasons because of the departure of Billie Piper, who played the Doctor's traveling companion Rose Tyler. Over two seasons Rose and the Doctor had developed a relationship and a rapport that was going to be very hard to replace.
I needn't have worried. The Doctor's new companion Martha Jones, played by Freema Agyeman is a worthy successor to the formidable Rose. She and co-star David Tenant (The Doctor) have a very winning chemistry.
As for the rest of the show, the three episodes I've watched so far have been top notch. The writing just zips the shows along at a breakneck pace and the dialog is wittier than ever. The second episode, where the Doctor and Martha team up with William Shakespeare to fight a trio of witches was just a tremendous amount of fun. I'm hoping for more time travel oriented episodes. The aliens and monsters are great, but I like to see the Doctor dashing about in Earth's history whenever possible.
I see from the episode guide included in the DVD box set that the Doctor's old enemy The Master will return in one of the later episodes of the series. The Master is a renegade Time Lord, the Doctor's opposite number in every way, as dedicated to evil and self gain as the Doctor is to Justice and self sacrifice. This will be his first appearance in the new series. Almost makes me want to skip ahead to the end, but that would be cheating. The writers of the series go to amazing lengths to have their character and story arcs build gradually over the series so it would be a shame to mess that up. Anyway, great to have a new series of Doctor Who to watch, I'll do my best to keep to one episode a day, but no promises. This is just too much fun.

If I Won the Lottery

What would I do if I won the lottery? This question comes up at work periodically and I always have trouble answering it. See, there are very few 'things' that I actually want. Don't care about cars. Not interested in houses. Just not the way my mind works. So when the other folks reel off a list of things they would buy I always feel sort of left out. I rarely play the Georgia lottery anyway. Usually the jackpot has to get above 200 million. Then I will buy a couple of quick picks just to feel I'm part of the event. Were I to actually win the 200 million, I guess I'd have to give the distribution of the funds a bit more thought.
Like most people I'd make sure that my family was taken care of. Be nice to have plenty of money to care for my parents as they age, put my nephews through college, etc. But in many ways, I don't think my life would change that much. Most of my fun money goes toward books, and I tend to buy all of them that I want already. I don't collect antiquarian books so a lot of cash wouldn't really change my book buying much.
I guess I'd buy a condo or something, but that would probably be down the line. As I said, I don't really want a house, so I certainly wouldn't buy a big mansion or anything like that. I'd probably have a succession of nice apartments and just live in different places for a while. That might be fun.
Obviously I wouldn't have to work anymore, so that would be a major change. I'd have to find some stuff to do though. I didn't deal well with all the inactivity when I worked as a comic book writer and had so much free time.
Ultimately, were I suddenly wealthy, I would use the money for travel. I'd probably rent a house in London for a couple of months and fly any of my friends over who wanted to visit. (Take Beth and Laura to tea at Brown's Hotel.) Then I'd bump around Europe for a while. Re-visit Japan. That sort of thing.
And that's really all I can come up with. I've never been very interested in money. As long as I have enough to pay my bills and buy some books and movies, I'm pretty happy

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Notes From Uncle Ernest

Ernest Hemingway always said that it was bad luck to talk about writing. He felt you should do it and not talk about it. But over the years in essays, in letters, interviews, articles, and in his novels and short stories he would occasionally let slip some of his philosophy about writing. Larry W. Phillips ferreted out all the references to the art of writing that he could find in Hemingway's work and collected them into a slender little volume called Ernest Hemingway on Writing. I picked up a copy in 1999 and I've lost count of how many times I've read it.
It's one of the book I fall back on when my writing isn't going well. Though I don't always agree with Uncle Ernest, as I call him, it is his convictions about writing, his total devotion to the art, and his refusal to do anything other than his best which inspire me and help me get back to the work. Hemingway says:
"I love to write. But it has never gotten any easier to do and you can't expect it to if you keep trying for something better than you can do."
That's it in a nutshell. I can always write the same old stuff. I am, after all, the plotting machine. But I always want something different too. In some ways the two main things that I try for in writing are almost diametrically opposed. I want to write in the traditions of authors I admire but I also want to do my own thing. It's the friction between these two goals that usually makes the work I am happiest with. This may sound a bit odd from a guy who writes mostly about barbarians and private eyes, but I do take writing seriously and I try to do it well. Here is my favorite quote from Hemingway.

"All good books are alike in that they are truer than if they really happened and after you are finished reading one you will feel that all of that happened to you and afterwards it all belongs to you; the good and the bad, the ecstacy, the remorse and sorrow, the people and the places and how the weather was."

Sunday, November 04, 2007

The Reading Report

Been reading lots and lots and lots of short stories this week. Many from the Swords Against Darkness collections I mentioned a few posts back. Interesting thing about those is, some of the writers have stories in just about every volume and many use continuing characters, most of whom I wasn't familiar with. Richard L. Tierney's Simon of Gitta, and Ramsey Campbell's Ryre have become a couple of favorites.
I've been reading mystery shorts as well, finishing off The Mammoth Book of Perfect Crimes and Impossible Mysteries. I'm a sucker for a locked room mystery and this is a book full of them. One even has a solution amazingly similar to one I came up with for a story although for a completely different kind of murder. I still need to get around to writing the one about the man found stabbed in an old cedar chest that has been locked from the inside.
Also read a couple of John Jakes' Brak stories which resulted in the DoLB post about the blond Conan clone.
Just haven't been in a novel reading mood the last couple of weeks although I have plenty of books waiting in my to be read pile. Luckily I have lots of short story collections.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Lady in Cement

Back in the 1960s Frank Sinatra did a pair a movies where he played a hard-boiled private eye named Tony Rome. I bought both movies on DVD a year or two ago when they were on sale. Today I watched 1968's Lady in Cement, the second of the films. following up the eponymous Tony Rome. I remember seeing this movie on TV a couple of times when I was a kid.
The plot is a bit murky. While scuba diving on a treasure hunting trip off the coast of Miami, Tony finds a the nude body of a recently murdered woman on the ocean floor, her feet encased in a block of cement. Backtracking the dead girl involves Tony with a local mob boss, a very large smalltime hood (Dan Blocker of Bonanza) and a rich society dame with a drinking problem. (Raquel Welch) There are fistfights and gun battles and a car chase or two. Near the end Frank stands around a lot and explains the plot.
The films biggest flaw is probably that Frank can't stop being Frank. Anyone who's seen Sinatra in The Manchurian Candidate or From Here to Eternity knows that the man could act. But in this film he just can't stop mugging for the camera and delivering his lines like he's on stage at the Sands with Dean and Sammy. It makes it tough to take the plot seriously. The previous film was played a bit more seriously and is considerably better.
On another note, I had forgotten just how stunning Raquel Welch was early in her career. She can't act to save her life, but she was an amazingly beautiful young woman.
The weirdest thing was just looking at Miami in 1968. I remember when Florida looked like that. I remember that world. The buildings and the cars. All those massive Fords and Chevrolets. The men in their suits and the women in their bright dresses. The guys with their slick backed hair (a little dab will do ya) and the women with their hair teased to heights undreamed of and held in place with copious amounts of hairspray. It looked like the budget was blown on Raquel's false eyelashes alone. Ah, the sixties.
Anyway, I had fun with the movie. I'm including the poster for Tony Rome with this post because it's a lot more cool than the one for Lady in Cement.

The Department of Lost Barbarians: Brak

John Jakes' Brak the Barbarian isn't quite as lost as some of the characters I've showcased here at the DoLB. Most people with more than a passing knowledge of the sub genre of sword & sorcery will at least be familiar with Brak. However, since the Brak books have been out of print since the 1970s, there's a good chance that a lot of folks haven't actually read any of them.
Now before you ask, yes this is the same John Jakes who is now a famous historical novelist. He hit the big time in the mid 1970s with his Bicentennial blockbusters The Kent Family Chronicles. Since then he's turned out quite a few well received and best selling historical novels. (His latest, The Gods of Newport, is just out in paperback.) But if you jump back to the early 1960s, Jakes was working as a copywriter in the advertising field and selling stories to the ever shrinking supply of fiction magazines. Jakes wrote whatever was selling. Crime stories, westerns, science fiction and fantasy. Then in 1963, with the encouragement of editor Cele Goldsmith, Jakes began writing a series of Conan style adventures for the SF/Fantasy magazine Fantastic Stories. Goldsmith should perhaps be considered the patron saint of Sword & Sorcery, because she also coaxed new Fafhrd and Gray Mouser stories out of Fritz Lieber and published the early works of Michael Moorcock.
Brak is basically a blond Conan, adventuring on a parallel earth with a technology level roughly equivalent to the early Roman Empire. Brak lacks Conan's savage nature, but he's still a barbarian in a civilized world so his adventures follow the Conan mode pretty closely. He fights the usual assortment of evil wizards, demons, and monsters. Jakes makes no bones about this. In reply to an early letter to Fantastic he has this to say.
"The reader's letter expressed the opinions that Brak was but a pale imitation of mighty Conan, and what was worse, had probably been conceived either out of ignorance of Conan, or with full knowledge and therefore out of sheer cupidity. To the first part of this charge I plead delightedly guilty."
Beginning with 'Devils in the Walls' in the May 1963 issue of Fantastic, Jakes would continue to write of Brak into the late seventies, when presumably, his success as a historical novelist caused him to concentrate his efforts in that genre. There are three Brak novels and two collections of short stories. I find the short stories to be more readable than the novels. Jakes prose is certainly very solid but the Brak stories are short on characterization, so they don't hold up well in the long form for modern readers. I recommend the collection 'The Fortunes of Brak'.
Brak also made it into comic books, though very briefly. His first appearance was in Chamber of Chills #2 in 1973 in a tale called Spell of the Dragon. The story was scripted by Jakes but plotted and with layouts by artist Dan Adkins. The finished art was by Val Mayerick and Joe Sinnot. That story was reprinted in Savage Tales #5, then Jakes' short story The Unspeakable Shrine was adapted over two more issues of Savage Tales. I keep thinking that some enterprising comics company should get the rights to do a new Brak comic and steal some of the readers of Dark Horse's Conan and Dynamite's Red Sonja.
The last new Brak story, 'Storm in a Bottle' appeared in the Lin Carter edited anthology Flashing Swords #4 in 1977. In an introduction to one of the Brak books, Jakes mentions that he has plotted the final Brak tale and locked it away, but I doubt we'll ever see it. I interviewed Jakes several years ago, and while he was more than happy to talk about his days writing Brak, he had no interest in ever returning to the character. Fantasy was a genre he felt he'd left behind.
Still, the Brak stories were written as pure genre entertainment and taken as that they are a lot of fun. They are easily and cheaply available in used bookstores and online, and well worth tracking down if you're up for some light escapist adventure.