Wednesday, December 31, 2008

What'll Ya Have?!

I got a craving for a Varsity hot dog today, so I hopped in the truck and headed over to the one at Town Center. Not the REAL Varsity of course, an Atlanta landmark that's down near Georgia Tech. But the chili dog and the slaw dog still tasted the same and the air is still full of cries of "What'll ya have? What'll ya have?!"
I can remember when I was a kid, no trip down to Atlanta was complete without a stop at the Varsity. They still had carhops then and would bring out trays laden with greasy dogs, burgers, and fries and attach them to the car window. Sometimes we went inside and stood at the long counter on the red tile floor, surrounded by strangers united in the search for a greasy chili dog.
Over the years my dad and I would sometimes make a trip down to the big city on a Sunday afternoon just to visit the Varsity. And these days if he comes to Kennesaw to see a movie or something with me we'll still hit the Varsity afterwards.
Anyway, I had a chili dog and a slaw dog and a giant Coke with that crushed ice that the Varsity has. Enjoyed it tremendously and I can actually hear my arteries clogging...

Sunday, December 28, 2008

A More Conan-ish Kharrn

My Lord of the Rings avatar Kharrn was designed to look as much like Conan as possible, however lately I've noticed that with the addition of various armor, he was looking more Middle Earth-ish, so I decided to redesign him a bit. Thing is, he's still wearing all that armor, you just can't see it. The character interface allows you to toggle the visibility of various items on and off. So Kharrn is still wearing all his protective material, which he needs, but now he looks a bit more like Conan with his bare arms and simple tunic. Barbarians have to keep up appearances don't you know. Oh and he hit level 60 yesterday Top of the world, ma.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

And So This is Christmas

And what have I done? Well last night, Christmas Eve, my whole family went over to the assisted living home to have Christmas with my grandmother. The home has a new activity room and we were allowed to use it so we had a more private gathering that the last couple of Holidays.
This morning, my parents and I went to my brother's house for Christmas brunch. Got some Christmas money and Roger Moore's autobiography, My Word is My Bond. Tried out my nephew's compound bow and placed my third arrow dead center of the bullseye, impressing the heck out of the nephew.
This afternoon I've been watching Christmas DVDs, reading and hanging out with Bruce and Amelia. Not a bad way to finish out the holiday.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

More Weird Dreams

I don't know if it was the Nyquil or what but last night was a bumper crop of strange dreams. First I dreamed that Beth and I were fighting inter-dimensional demons in New York in 1942. Then I dreamed that someone at work needed CPR but I'd forgotten how to do it. Then I dreamed that I had joined the cast of Torchwood for the fourth season and my brother was visiting me in England when I was on the set. But later in the dream it wasn't the show but instead the real Torchwood and I was still there but not on the team and it gets really confusing after that...

My Most Read Book

When people ask me what my favorite book is, I usually hem and haw and deflect the question, because truly I've read too many books and loved too many to ever really pick a favorite. But if you ask me what book I've read more times than any other, now that one I can answer. It's Swords Against Wizardry by Fritz Leiber. That's pronounced Lie-bur, by the way. For years I pronounced it as lee-bur, but Michael Moorcock tells me that it's Lie-bur and that Fritz could be rather sensitive about that, so I try to get it right.
Swords Against Wizardry was, as near as I can recall, the first prose sword & sorcery I ever read. Not a bad place to start. I've explained in previous posts about how I discovered Conan through the pages of Marvel Comics Conan the Barbarian back in Christmas of 1973. And how upon learning that there were books about Conan, I had sought them only to find that they were out of print. And so I had begun searching for anything LIKE Conan, basically going through all the SF/Fantasy books at the mall bookstores, looking for covers that featured guys with swords. (It's not as labor intensive as it sounds, because the SF section of B. Dalton or Waldenbooks was pretty darn small back in 1974.)
I can still remember the day, not the exact date, but the day when I first encountered Leiber. I was in B. Dalton, which was upstairs in Cumberland Mall, just south of Atlanta, and I spotted several brightly colored books, all of which had the word 'swords' in the title. I figured this was something that might be of interest to me. I can't tell you why I picked Swords Against Wizardry from the five available titles. I may not have noticed that it was the fourth book in the series, or if I noticed, I might have assumed that like many numbered series, it didn't actually matter what order you read them in. Maybe I liked the Jeff Jones cover, or perhaps, being color blind, I just thought it the brightest and therefore the most exotic of the five. (I think the cover is some form or dark pink, but I don't actually know. You tell me.)
I suspect though, that what really happened was that I read the opening few paragraphs, where Leiber's heroes Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser were crouching within the tent of some ancient crone of a witch, and was so immediately caught up in that story that I had to take that book home. Re-reading the first segment last night, I was once again whisked away to the world of Nehwon (no-when backwards) and plunked down right in the middle of that ill smelling tent while ghosts howled around the outside and things best left unseen skittered about the door flap.
So what is it that kept ( and keeps) bringing me back to that particular book? Ultimately it's Leiber's skill with words. I consider him to be the best writer of fantasy ever, and yes that includes better than Robert E. Howard of J.R.R Tolkien or anyone else you care to mention. Leiber could write. Oh could he write. He was the child of two Shakespearean actors (he appeared in many plays and a couple of movies himself) and his early life was full of books and plays and he brought a level of art and to his writings of the fantastic that's hard to match. Writers such as Michael Moorcock, Neil Gaiman, and Pulitzer price winner Michael Chabon all list Leiber as an influence. Chabon's novel Gentlemen of the Road is very much in the spirit of Leiber's Fafhrd and Mouser tales.
But there's more than that, obviously, because while I've read all of Leiber's S&S stories multiple times, none have held the attraction of SaW. Re-reading it last night I tried to nail it down. A lot of it, I think stems from Leiber's descriptions of Fafhrd's and the Mouser's climb up the mountain Stardock. The cold and the snow and the ice. The sheer exertion of the climb and the perils faced. The dizzying height and the rarified atmosphere. I can remember that one of my rituals for several years after finding the book was to read it whenever we had snow in Northern Georgia. I would go outside and play in the snow until my fingers and toes were numb and then I would come home and get under the blankets and read about Fafhrd and the Mouser and feel that I was really there with them on the white slopes of Stardock.
Then there's the level of imaginative imagery in the story. The strange invisible flying creatures, viewed only as distortions in the air or outlined by a swiftly falling snow. The cold worms and the ice gnomes. The jewels that can only be seen at night.
And there was quite a bit of sex. Certainly not graphic by any means, but definitely erotic and I'm sure fascinating as all get out to a twelve year old boy. Add plenty of sword fighting, battles with monsters and beast men, and you have a heady mixture indeed. All told in the lyrical, exotic, and Byzantine language that was the unique style of Fritz Leiber.
Finally you have the characters of Fafhrd and the Mouser themselves. You can tell if you've read earlier posts here how much I love those two rogues. They are not quite the supermen that mighty Conan and his brethren are, but they always manage to survive their run ins with foes both human and supernatural. They make mistakes. They lose fights. They are bested by clever men and cleverer women. But they keep coming back for a brawling, drinking, roaring good time. Leiber brought humor and humanity to heroic fantasy. Not an easy thing to make work.
Last night I sat down to read the first part of Swords Against Wizardry before writing this rambling essay, and before I knew it I'd read most of the way to the end, showing that the book has lost none of its power to charm me. Wizardry indeed.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Merry Christmas from Middle Earth

I took Kharrn all the way up to the Misty Mountains to get this shot.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Scimitars and Sorcery

I've talked before about the lack of decent sword & sorcery films. Though there have been several attempts, Conan, Beastmaster, Scorpion King etc, no one has really managed to capture the feel of old time sword & sorcery. Oddly enough, the movie that possibly comes the closest is 1974's The Golden Voyage of Sinbad. I watched it again last night and was reminded very much of the works of Robert E. Howard.
In tone, it's probably the darkest of Ray Harryhausen's films. Sinbad is up against a sorcerer named Koura, played with scenery chewing relish by Doctor Who star Tom Baker. Koura seems to be a sorcerer very much in the REH tradition. His spells require preparation and sorcerous paraphernalia and many of his "magic" powers are actually forms of mesmerism or telekinesis. He consorts with demons and dark gods. No throwing of mystic bolts or fireballs. This sorcerer has to work for his dark powers and he doesn't mind taking up a sword and mixing it up when things go wrong.
Sinbad and his crew end up on the mythical continent of Lemuria (shades of Lin Carter's Thongor) where they have to fight a one-eyed centaur and a six armed stone idol come to life. Very much the sort of thing we expect from a Conan yarn. Plus there's a tribe of savages who could be Howard's Picts save for their green skin. And then there's heroine Caroline Munroe, who looks as if she stepped right off the cover of an issue of Savage Sword of Conan. She's the very image of a S&S heroine and I can remember being quite smitten with her at age 12 when I first saw the movie.
I saw Golden Voyage of Sinbad in the old downtown Canton movie theater. My dad took me, as I recall. It was the perfect time for me to see that film, because my burgeoning interest in S&S was just beginning to take hold. I'd read Thongor and Fritz Lieber's Fafhrd and Gray Mouser stories and was reading Conan and Warlord in the comics. Golden Voyage of Sinbad seemed to fit right in. Perhaps that's part of the reason why I think of it as a sword & sorcery film, but I believe its overall tone and content have more to do with it than nostalgia. Anyway, it still holds up, all these years later. The special effects are remarkably good. Ray Harryhausen's stop motion monsters may not look as photo realistic as today's CGI created creatures, but there's still something about them. They have a level of personality that a computer image hasn't matched yet.
And Caroline Munroe is still hot. Go Sinbad.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Happy Birthday Mike!

It's Michael Moorcock's birthday today. Mike is, of course, the creator of Elric of Melnibone and many other fantasy heroes. One of the few of the second wave of sword & sorcery writers still writing today and still a hard act to follow. His albino swordsman Elric is still appearing in new comics and short stories. The most recent story, Black Petals, showed up in Weird Tales magazine earlier this year.
So happy Birthday. Mike. You're a class act and a nice guy.

That Time Again

Well I've gotten my traditional Christmas cold a week in advance. Head is stopped up this morning and my throat is sore. I'm hoping this means that I'll actually be cold-free on Christmas itself. The last two years I've taken a cold like two days before Christmas and been in the worst part of it on the day itself.
Fortunately I had already scheduled today off from work because I had vacation time left to burn, so I can just laze around and get better. I've had breakfast and now I'm checking email and the usual stuff.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Galleon of Dream

Picked up an interesting item for my Lin Carter collection last week. Galleon of Dream was a self published collection of poetry that Carter produced in 1953, quite a few years before he became a professional writer. Carter was a prolific publisher of fanzines and the like and he self published several projects of this nature, including a previous volume of poetry, Sandalwood and Jade, in 1951. I haven't found a good copy of that one yet. According to the owners of Haslam's Book Store (who I interviewed years ago when writing a study of Carter), a massive used book store in Carter's hometown of St. Petersburg Florida, Carter used to try and get them to sell his self published work in the store. Lin was reportedly good friends with the late Mr. Haslam and spent a considerable amount of time in the store as a child and young man. One has to wonder what Carter's life might have been like had he not had access to such a place in his formative years. I also wonder what influence his purchases from this store had on his selections for the Ballantine Adult Fantasy line he would edit years later.
According to the Ebay seller, my copy was one of several that Lin had when he passed away. The same seller had several other of Carter's personal items that were bid out of my range. In any case, since Carter printed the booklet himself, it passed from his hands to mine, though several times removed. Not quite in the league of the unpublished manuscript of Lin's that I own, but still pretty cool.
Galleon of Dream contains umpteen poems, mostly about the theme of escaping to lands of fantasy through dreams. There is a plaintive quality about most of these works; the wishes of a young man to escape to far places as in this example from the titular poem, Galleon of Dream:

I sail my galleon of dream
to shores where golden cities gleam.
To Samarkind and Zanzibar,
where sandalwood and rubies are,
and fabled realms that lie beyond,
like Turkistan and Trebizond.

Many of the poems refer to books that Carter loved. Treasure Island. The Arabian Nights. The Oz books. The poems strike me as (not unexpectedly) amateurish, but are certainly competent. Carter illustrated the small book as well and his drawings are fairly well done. Anyone familiar with the maps Lin did for his Thongor and Callisto books will recognize his inkline in these early illustrations.
The thing that stood out to me the most is that the poems have a lot of imagery that seems to have been inspired by Lord Dunsany. Though Carter made his living writing books that were mostly pastiches of Robert E. Howard and Edgar Rice Burroughs, I think that the Dunsanian style fantasy was always his first love. His personal works such as Khymyrium and the Simrana cycle seem to bear this out. Though Carter is often classified as a hack by critics, and even I, a true Carter fan have to admit that he sometimes deserved the title, the works that he did for love often have a considerably higher quality of writing than the books he rushed out to pay the bills. Galleon of Dream shows the early inner life of a young writer, in love with fiction and far off lands, and waiting to escape into a larger world.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Home For Now

So last night I'm sitting on the couch, watching a DVD, and Amelia comes walking into the living room. Her usual pattern is to walk right past me and climb on the cat-condo so she can look out the windows. This time she walks over to the couch, hops up onto the cushion beside me and curls up. Slowly, I reach over and rub her head and she puts chin up so I can run my knuckles under her jaw. Purring, she settles down and goes to sleep. I guess she's decided my place is home for now.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Reading Report

My reading reports have been a bit sparse lately, I know. That's mostly because lately I'm having trouble finding any fiction that I want to read. Part of the problem seems to be that I've sort of burned out on most mystery fiction, which used to be one of my mainstays. Folks like Lawrence Block, Jonathan Kellerman, and Sue Grafton have just missed me with their last few books and I don't know how much of that is me and how much is them. I haven't even bought the new Robert B. Parker Spenser novel and that's been out a couple of months now. In any case, I just don't seem to be able to get into that sort of thing these days. Maybe it will swing back around. We'll see.
So what have I been reading? A lot of short stories. I've read about half of the Simon Magus stories in the Scroll of Thoth collection. Read or re-read a bunch of Robert E. Howard stories. Quite a few re-reads of Michael Moorcock's Elric tales.
Much non fiction, most of it having to do with Norsemen. Also read Memoirs of Vidocq, the autobiography of Franscois Eugene Vidocq, the real life French criminal turned detective who was one of the original inspirations for Sherlock Holmes. Fascinating stuff.
Re-read Edgar Rice Burroughs' Pellucidar novel, Back to the Stone Age, and a couple of Doc Savage pulp novels, The Red Terrors and Mystery Under the Sea. Whenever I read one of Lester Dent's Doc novels, I'm always amazed at what an influence Dent had one me. My third person writing style still has some stylistic similarities to Dent's all these years after I first read his stuff. I make no attempt to imitate him in terms of writing, but the influence is definitely there. Occasionally I'll write a very 'Dent' sort of sentence or paragraph. I'll pull out an example the next time I find one.
I've asked for a couple of memoirs for Christmas and if I don't get them, I'll buy them after the holidays. I'm down to three Repairman Jack books now, and I have one or two other fiction books I've put back for a rainy day. So the reading goes on. Just not at quite the rate I was tearing through stuff for a while there.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Can't Get There From Here

So I've been playing Lord of the Rings Online: Mines of Moria for about three weeks now and I've really been enjoying it. Lot of new monsters to kill and new challenges to face. I do have a couple of problems with the new expansion though. The biggest one is just that it's really hard to get around in Moria without getting lost. Seems like either I or one of my Kinship members is constantly lost. There are maps, as there are in the other areas of the games, but the maps are 2-D and the environment is 3-D. The mines have more than one level, so sometimes when you think you're right on top of something, you're actually below it or above it. Confusing. And of course a lot of the environment is just tunnels which all look pretty much the same.
The other thing is that you can't use your horse inside the mines. You can catch a ride from place to place on these giant goats, (Yes I said, giant goats.) but that's only from town to town. If you're out in the mines and you suddenly have to travel a long way, you'll just have to run. Slows things down considerably.
Got to fight a bunch of warg riders last night. Goblins mounted on giant wolves. Really cool. Also fought several hive queens which are these giant bugs, kind of like the Alien Mother in Aliens. The game is starting to use a lot of monsters and things which aren't strictly from Tolkein, but I figured that was coming. I have been briefly to Lothlorian. You're not really supposed to go there until you've been all through the mines and everything there is level 59 or 60, so it's dangerous, but my pal Nav and I wanted to see it so we tried a suicide run through the mines and actually made it out the other side to Lothlorian. Couldn't get into the main part of that area yet, but we did get to climb to one of the platforms and see some elves.
Anyway, I hit level 56 this weekend, and am well on my way to 57, so I'm rolling right along. Over the halfway mark to the new cap at level 60. The road goes ever on and on.

Remembering Nishiyama Sensei

They say that bad news always comes in threes, and though I don't really believe that, this week it seems to be true. Already saddened by the deaths of Jim Cawthorn and Forest J. Ackerman, I also learned from my friend Lanny that Sensei Hidetaka Nishiyama had passed away recently. This is a far more personal loss than the other two, for while I admired the work of Ackerman and Cawthorn, Nishiyama Sensei was someone whom I knew and who had a major influence on my life. He was my sensei's sensei.
There are any number of websites that you can visit for biographical information on Nishiyama, so I won't spend a lot of time on that here. Suffice to say that he was the senior student of Gichin Funakoshi. Funakoshi Sensei was the founder of Shotokan Karate and the man who coined the name karate for the Japanese system of empty handed martial arts. Thus, my brother and sensei was only one man removed from the founder of the style. Anyone who knows a lot about martial arts will tell you how rare that is. Most martial arts are into their umpteenth generation of permutation. But traditional Shotokan karate remains very close to the source and one of the primary reasons for that was Hidetaka Nishiyama.
What I remember about Nishiyama was his total dedication to Shotokan. He was a tireless proponent of the martial art, with emphasis on the art. Far more than a method of self defense, Shotokan was a way of building character through the seeking of perfect technique. You knew that you would never achieve that perfection, but the attempt was something worthwhile. If anyone came close to having perfect technique though, it was Nishiyama Sensei. His reverse punch and his front kick were lightning quick well into his 60s. His front stance was a thing of wonder. Feet turned just so. Body angled just right and weight distributed perfectly. Hard styles of karate like Shotokan can appear stiff and jerky, but not with Nishiyama. His movements were fluid and graceful.
We all tried to imitate him. To phrase our kata like his. To make our stances and our kicks and punches as much like his as possible. We even talked like him, snapping off the Japanese commands in the almost guttural way that he said them. My counting came to sound more and more like his after each time I trained with him. Ichi! Ni! San!
The word 'master' is bandied about far too readily these days and applied to far too many people who don't deserve the title. But Hidetaka Nishiyama was without question, a master of karate. Anyone who ever trained with him came away with an appreciation of the art of karate and a determination to improve. He was a patient, intelligent, and quietly funny man. He taught through example and through a variety of stories and demonstrations.
I can remember that after one of the marathon seminars I attended with Nishiyama Sensei I was absolutely exhausted and yet didn't really want the weekend to be over. At the end of the final class of the last day, Nishiyama Sensei would always have the entire class sit on the floor and he would take questions. Most of the questions would be about techniques and he would leap up and show how the kick or punch or stance should be executed, punctuating his points with a shinai (bamboo kendo sword). As I said, we all hated for those grueling weekends to end, but eventually we would line up for one final bow. And so I'll end this rambling bit of reminiscence the same way. For Nishiyama Sensei.

Sensei Ni...Rei!!

Saturday, December 06, 2008

The Long Goodbye

Just had dinner with Trish who heads to Iraq Monday morning for her six month hitch. Hard to believe I won't get to see her for that long a period of time. She's one of the friends I see every week and I'm definitely going to miss her. She'll be stationed in as safe a place as anyone can be safe in Iraq, but I'm still not thrilled about her going, obviously. Anyway, her two cats, Amelia and Bruce are both asleep on the couch to my right as I type this. Bruce is snoring.

Friday, December 05, 2008

James Cawthorn 1929-2008

I learned this morning that James Cawthorn passed away on Tuesday of this week. He was 78. Cawthorn is an important figure in the history of sword & sorcery, but many of you may never have heard of him. Cawthorn was a close friend of Michael Moorcock and Mike says that Cawthorn was very influential in the development of his signature character, Elric of Melnibone. Cawthorn did the earliest drawings of Elric and Mike still considers those to be the closest anyone has come to portraying the albino the way that Mike envisioned him. The two met when Moorcock was still a teenager and editing the Tarzan Adventures Magazine in London. Cawthorn provided covers and illustrations for Tarzan Adventures and illustrated the adventures of Mike's first S&S hero, Sojan the Swordsman. Cawthorn went on to do some of the first comic book adaptations of Moorcock's better known heroes, not only Elric, but also Dorian Hawkmoon.
In addition to being a talented artist, Cawthorn was a writer as well. He worked with Moorcock on the script for the 1974 movie adaptation of the Edgar Rice Burroughs novel The Land That Time Forgot and more importantly, for fans of sword & sorcery, Cawthorn collaborated with Mike on the plot outline for the Elric/Conan team-up in Marvel Comics' Conan the Barbarian issues 14 and 15. Writer Roy Thomas and artist Barry Smith turned this outline into two of the best remembered issues of the Marvel Conan. He also contributed to the plot for at least one of Moorcock's Elric novellas.
Cawthorn passed away only a few days short of his 79th Birthday on December 21. He left behind an impressive body of work.
For an interview with Cawthorn and examples of his art, check out this link to Savoy books:

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Giving Back Redux

A couple of posts ago I was talking about buying books for an underprivileged kid for my mom's church. After reading that post my pal Cliff, who is a stand up guy, called and volunteered to supply some other stuff. So last night Cliff added some collections of Spiderman and Batman comics, plus more paperback and hardback SF/Fantasy books. (He threw in a copy of Edgar Rice Burroughs A Princess of Mars just because he thought every twelve year old boy should meet John Carter of Mars. I agree.)
So this is one kid who's going to have a darn nifty Christmas. Thanks for stepping up, Cliff. You're a pal.

Never Say Never

A while back I mentioned that I was collecting the old Dell and Gold Key Tarzan comics featuring the artwork of Jesse Marsh. I also mentioned that I was going to a lot of effort to find these comics, most of which are older than I am, because I didn't think it likely that anyone would ever reprint them. Marsh's art style just didn't seem one that would be of interest to contemporary comics fan. Well I've seldom been so happy to admit I was wrong. Cliff emailed me last night to let me know that Dark Horse Comics, publishers of Tarzan:The Joe Kubert Years, will be bringing out multiple volumes of Tarzan:The Jesse Marsh Years.
Each hardback volume will be around 250 pages and the projected plan is to reprint the entirety of Marsh's run on the comic which covered 19 years. The best part for me initially is that Marsh's earliest work on the Tarzan series is far too pricey for me. Anything after issue 50 isn't too bad, but the prices have been going steadily up. Now I can read all the early issues for a fraction of what the original comics would cost. And once the series catches up to where my collection begins, I'll gladly replace my old and fragile comics with sturdy hardback collections. See I don't give a darn about owning the original comics these days. I just love to READ comics. The collections are the way to go for me.
What is it that I love about Marsh's art? I like the cartoonish quality and the heavy ink line. I like his approach to drapery and his storytelling ability. I like his use of chiaroscuro, alternating patterns of black and white to give an amazing illusion of depth. I like the research that went into his Tarzan. Marsh reportedly owned dozens of books about Africa and it shows in the art. His natives are dressed in authentic African clothing and lived in accurately rendered dwellings. Patterns from African art cover buildings, shields and fabrics. His Africa is more grassland than jungle, as the real Africa is. His animals have a naturalistic feel to them that few comics artists could match.
Marsh worked as an animator at Walt Disney for many years and was reportedly an excellent painter. One source said that his real love was fine art and that he basically taught himself to cartoon in an amazingly short period of time basing his approach on the work of Terry and the Pirates/Steve Canyon artist, Milton Caniff. Alex Toth, one of my comics artist idols, absolutely loved Marsh's work and wrote a long and fascinating appreciation of Marsh for the magazine Panels many years ago. I'll have to dig that out and perhaps write a longer post about Marsh in the future.
Now of course it doesn't hurt that Marsh was illustrating the adventures of one of my top five fictional characters. Though Russ Manning's Tarzan will always be the ultimate for me, once I discovered Marsh's work I immediately loved it. Teamed with writer Gaylord Dubois, who took over scripting the Tarzan comic with issue number two, Marsh's Tarzan was an amalgamation of the movie Tarzans and the original Edgar Rice Burroughs version. The Dell Tarzan series is chock full of action and adventure among lost cities, dangerous tribes, savage beasts and later, dinosaurs, beast-men, giants, and all manner of exotic menaces. We get Queen La form Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar, the Ant men from Tarzan and the Ant Men, Roman soldiers from Tarzan and the Lost Empire, etc, etc. Dell's Tarzan was a wonderland of danger and excitement, and all of it rendered for almost two decades in the solid, beautiful art style of Jesse Marsh. And now it will be available again for new readers and for those like me, who just want to have all of it. The first volume goes on sale February 25.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Giving Back

My mom called me the other night seeking help which I was particularly qualified to give. Through her church she was supplying Christmas gifts for an underprivileged young person. Clothes, toys, etc. On his wish list he had asked for SF/Fantasy books. Mom wanted to know if I wanted to take care of that part of his list. Well of course I did.
I went out this morning and bought an assortment. I picked up Magician Apprentice by Raymond Fiest. I think Fiest is the best guy working in the Tolkien tradition right now. Fast paced and well written, with an appealing young hero. Got The Wish Song of Shannara by Terry Brooks for much the same reasons. Traditional fantasy with lots of heroics and derring do. And it's a self contained story. Not part of a trilogy. Shifted gears a bit and got Fool Moon, one of Jim Butcher's Harry Dresden books. Don't know what the kid might like so I figured I'd get him something different. Also got S.M. Stirling's The Sky People, which was a recent SF novel that I enjoyed. Then David Webber's Oath of Swords, which straddles a line between fantasy and SF. Finally got the standard size paperback edition of Beyond the Black River, which is a collection of Robert E. Howard stories with three Conan yarns and a couple of other tales. I managed to restrain my own tastes for the most part. but there's no way I could pass up giving a 12 year old boy at least a sampling of REH. Overall I think I did well not throwing in Lovecraft, Smith, Burroughs, and Lieber. Anyway, I hope the kid enjoys the books. Not used books but brand new paperbacks that are his and his alone. Would have made my Christmas at age 12 for sure.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Not Quite What I Expected.

A couple of years ago I saw this cover for a 1965 issue of Tarzan and I thought, "Wow, that must be some story. Giant wasps and frozen Romans, Vikings, etc."
So I bid on that issue several times on Ebay and someone always seemed to outbid me at the last minute. The other night the issue popped up again and I bid on it and this time I won. So today I finally got to read the issue and I was rather disappointed. See, back in the 60s, comics were notorious for featuring scenes on the cover that didn't actually occur in the story within. This is sort of what happened here. There are giant wasps, but they aren't as big as the ones on the cover, and there are frozen Romans, etc, but Tarzan doesn't fight them in the cave and in fact, only one Roman is actually thawed out, not a whole legion like on the cover. This is one of those times when the cover is waaaaay better than the story inside.
So anyway, now I'm thinking maybe I should write a story that actually fits that cover. I could use my Tarzan stand-in, Rakar the Jungle Lord. I'm thinking of calling it "Rakar and the Cavern of Time." Sounds nice and pulpish. Anyway, we'll see if I can actually think of a story that does the cover justice.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Jack Kirby's The Demon

I didn't buy The Demon comic book back when it originally ran in the early 1970s. I hadn't yet reached my obsession with the work of Jack Kirby and I didn't feel the need to own every comic he produced. Also it was a (or I perceived it as) a horror comic. Not my cup of tea at age 10 or so. I was a big fan of The Demon's companion series Kamandi: The Last Boy on Earth. But that's a post for another time.
Over the years I never quite managed to amass a complete run of The Demon. I would buy the comic if I spotted it at conventions, but it wasn't something I went actively looking for. As a result I ended up with eleven issues out of the sixteen issue run.
DC Comics' latest release in their Jack Kirby Omnibus series is a nice, heavy, hardcover book containing all sixteen issues of The Demon. And of course the best thing about it for me, is that there are five issues of the comic that are new to me. New Kirby art. New Kirby concepts. New Kirby! I'd forgotten how much I loved to see new things spiral out of Jack's imagination. His incredibly creative mind is just one of the things that made and keeps him the King of Comics.
A good example would be issue six's villain, The Howler. This is Jack's take on the werewolf legend, but of course it gets the Kirby spin. The bestial baddie isn't someone bitten and cursed by a werewolf. No he's actually possessed by a primal beast spirit. Look at how the Howler is portrayed on the cover. Not the lean Bernie Wrightson sort of werewolf, but instead a massive creature of terrifying strength and power.
In case you're not familiar with the series, The Demon is Etrigan, a demon summoned by Merlin back in the days of Camelot to aid the wizard in his struggle with Morgan Le Fey. After the fall of Camelot, Merlin disguises the demon by giving him human form as the ageless Jason Blood. Blood lives through the centuries awaiting Merlin's return. When we catch up with him in the 1970s, Blood is a (what else?) demonologist and collector of occult relics. When a horribly aged, but still dangerous Morgan Le Fey appears in the present, Merlin shows up too and calls in his demonic servant.
Kirby used the series to run his own riffs on classic monsters like Frankenstein, The Phantom of the Opera, and werewolves, but he also created his own supernatural menaces. I read through the entire volume over the weekend and was very impressed with Jack's handling of a supernatural book, not his usual thing. There are a couple of truly chilling concepts and Etrigan himself is actually pretty creepy. He's as ruthless as you'd expect a demon to be, killing his enemies with glee.
The character of the demon has remained a favorite of artists and writers who have followed Kirby. He's shown up numerous times over the years in other DC comics, including a recent series by John Byrne and appearances on various Warner Brothers cartoon series. Etrigan was probably best served in Alan Moore's Swamp Thing, where he is portrayed as a more classical demon figure. And I have to wonder how much effect Kirby's Demon had om Mike Mignola's Hellboy.
Anyway, after reading the entire series, I now think that this is one of Kirby's most underrated books. The Demon is one of his best written series. And now you can have it all in one hardcover book. Next up in the series is, I beleive, The Losers, Jack's handling of a DC World War II comic. Looking forward to it.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Cats For Christmas

Bruce and Amelia arrived yesterday for the long haul. Trish will be deployed to Iraq with her Air Force Reserve Unit in two weeks. She's spending the next week up north with her family. So her two cats have come to stay with me and will be here until sometime in June of next year. (Trish's deployment is six months.) Several people have commented about what a nice guy I am to take care of the cats for six months, but it's really not a burden or anything. I like them and they like me. (Though it usually takes Amelia a week or so to remember that she likes me.) I enjoy having them.
Their first night here passed calmly, with Amelia sleeping through the night without getting up and howling at the injustice of being left in Kennesaw. Doesn't mean she won't do that yet, but we'll call that a good opening day. Bruce was his usual buttinski self as I cooked breakfast this morning. Right now both cats are climbing around on the 'cat condo' Trish brought up. My living room is full of cat toys. I haven't had any pets since I left home a couple of decades back, so this will be the longest I've ever had pets around. Wish me luck.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Fifty One!!

Sorry about the hasty cut and paste job, but I was slapping this together before leaving for work this morning. I got Kharrn leveled up to 51 last night so I am officially in the new levels. As Homer Simpson would say, Woo Hoo!!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

A Slight Glitch

The killing didn't begin quite as quickly as hoped. When I got home from work at 5:00 and turned the computer on and logged in to LotR Online, there was a notice up from the developers saying they had to bring the servers down from 5:30 to 7:30. As you can imagine, after waiting all day to try out some new stuff, I was not thrilled.
However, once I DID get in, I did have fun checking out one of the new areas and killing some new monsters. It was kind of funny because I saw more people in one area than I've ever seen. Everyone was excited to have new places to adventure. A couple of places you almost had to wait in line to kill certain enemies. I didn't mind. There was a lot of good natured chatting on the OOC channel. Apparently a lot of people who hadn't played in a while were returning for the new release. As one player noted, "This is like a high school reunion!"
I didn't run into anyone I knew however, so I just soldiered on, killing all the enemies who came my way. managed to level Kharrn about halfway to the newly available level 51. With any luck I can actually get him there today. That's supposing that the servers are up when I get home...

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

And now begins the killing...

The Mines of Moria upgrade for Lord of the Rings Online goes up today. I downloaded all the new files last night. That means that there are now a bunch of new areas to explore and new monsters to fight and 10 new levels to attain. My main character Kharrn can start leveling up again after being capped at level 50 for the last few months. Probably also means that my secondary character Kellax will be stuck at level 33 for a while because I'll be taking Kharrn into all the new locations and doubtless neglecting his younger brother.
I went online for a few minutes this morning just to see if Kharrn could get back into action. I killed four bad guys, earning 1800 XP (experience points) for Kharrn, so yes, he is no longer capped. One of my kinship members, who was in the Moria beta test, tells me that all the stuff in Moria is too high to deal with at level 50, so I'll have to get Kharrn up a few more levels before I can actually take him inside the mines. But I can visit some of the other new areas as I level up, including Lothlorian. Been looking forward to that becoming available. So anyway, the new upgrade is here. And now begins the killing.

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Blade of the Slayer

Depending on who you ask, Simon Magus is either a historical figure or a bit of biblical apocrypha or both. He appears in some early Christian writings and is sometimes known as the first heretic. After seeing Simon portrayed by Jack Palance in the 1954 movie The Silver Chalice, author Richard Tierney made him the hero of a series of Sword & Sorcery stories. Unlike most S&S series, which tend to take place in unrecorded pre-history, Tierney set his tales of Simon Magus firmly in a historical setting, most of them taking place circa 30 A.D. Simon, a former gladiator, is trained in the arts of magic and mysticism and spends his time fighting against Rome and various supernatural menaces, often with links to H.P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu mythos. Tierney has also linked his series to Robert E. Howard's Conan through various references. The first two Simon Magus stories I read, The Ring of Set and the Scroll of Thoth, which appeared in the Swords Against Darkness anthologies, both concern relics from the Hyborian Age. Set is the snake god of the Stygians and the ring appears in two of Howard's stories, and the titular scroll belonged to Thoth-Amon, the evil wizard who causes Conan so much trouble. There are probably other references in the series, but so far I've only read four Simon stories, the two previously mentioned plus The Sword of Spartacus and The Blade of the Slayer.
The Blade of the Slayer is of particular interest to sword and sorcery aficionados because it features a guest appearance by another famous S&S character. And we know what a sucker I am for a crossover.


In this one, Simon is fleeing a band of cut throats in the desert and he ends up taking shelter in the ruins of an ancient city. There he meets an aged wizard who shows him an underground pit filled with some sort of heavy mist, fatal if breathed, and within that pit is the body of a man. According to the wizard, this is the first slayer. The man who let evil lose upon the world. The wizard claims that he and his brother wizards have imprisoned the man through sorcery but he still lives. Simon figures the old guy is nuts and the figure in the pit is just a well preserved corpse. But he also notices that the corpse has a sword and when the band of bad guys show up, the unarmed Simon holds his breath long enough to drop into the pit and grab the sword. The first man he kills pitches over into the pit, spilling blood on the prone figure and this counteracts the restraining sorcery.
Just when it seems that Simon is toast, the man from the pit rises from the mist and proceeds to handily kill the whole mob of bandits with a savagery that amazes even the battle hardened Simon. The man is massive, with red hair and beard, and the glittering blue eyes of a stone killer. When Simon asks the man's name he tells him that he is Kane, which Simon hears as Cain of course. He is indeed the first slayer. The man who committed the first murder when he killed his brother Able, and who must wander the world until he himself is killed by violence.
Of course Kane is also the creation of Karl Edward Wagner and the protagonist of numerous novels and short stories. Wagner liked and approved of Tierney's story, though he asked him to change the character's name to Nimrod for reprints so as not to interfere with Wagner's own continuity for projected further Kane stories. Now, many years after Wagner's death, the story appears with the Cain name intact in the Chaosium collection The Scroll of Thoth, which contains all the Simon Magus tales written solely by Richard Tierney. There are a couple of other stories done in collaboration with other writers that aren't included.
This ten year old book has become very collectible, perhaps because of the Kane connection, and I rarely see a good copy for less than 60 bucks. Though I'd wanted to read Blade of the Slayer since learning of its existence, I wasn't willing to fork over quite that much dough. I kept checking Ebay and Amazon and someone finally listed a copy on Amazon for 25 dollars. I snatched that one up. So now I have eight Simon Magus stories left to read, plus a new novel about Simon, The Drums of Chaos, was published just this year and I have a copy on the way.
Tierney's unique mix of historical adventure, sword & sorcery, and Lovecraftian horror makes for great reading, and I'm glad I snagged a copy of Scroll of Thoth. Plus, it was nice to see Kane one more time, even through the eyes of a different writer.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

The Devil You Know

While I was grocery shopping yesterday, I was in the soup aisle and I happen to catch a familiar logo out of the corner of my eye. A tiny red devil on a background of white paper. Deviled Ham. I guess it's been thirty years or so since I had any deviled ham. We would eat it on crackers or bread when I was just a kid whenever we'd go camping or on an impromptu picnic, and my mother used to mix it with pickle relish and boiled eggs to make a kind of ham salad.
If you've never had it, it comes in small cans, about the size of a cat food can, and the sturdy metal can is always wrapped in white paper. The meat itself is, as you would expect, very spicy.
So of course, I bought a can and took it home and ate the deviled ham on wheat bread. It tasted just the way I remembered it. It's manufactured bu Underwood and according to their website they introduced it in 1868. It's also low carb and high protein which is always a plus for me. Next time I think I'll have it on toast with eggs. Maybe with a little tobasco.
I called my mom and told her I'd had deviled ham for lunch and she found that vastly amusing. She said that now that I'd reminded her of it, she'd like some too and planned to buy some on her next shopping trip. It's nice to know that some memories are just waiting on the shelf for you.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Tarzan the Italian

My friend Whitney just returned from her whirlwind tour of Europe. (Actually she was in Italy for a 10 week study program, but whirlwind tour of Europe sounds cooler.) Before leaving she had asked me what I wanted as a souvenir and I'd said anything Italian featuring Conan or Tarzan. She returned with a very nifty little hardback album of Burne Hogarth Tarzan comic strips. It's printed in beautiful color on extremely nice paper and I'm very happy to add it to my collection of Tarzan comics. Hogarth is one of my top ten Tarzan artists. He was the second major artist on the long running Tarzan newspaper strip, following Hal Foster, and he drew the strip for longer than anyone else. Of course now that I've identified Hogarth as one of my top ten Tarzan comics artists, now I have to list the other nine. So here's the list more or less in order.

1. Russ Manning
2. Hal Foster
3. Joe Kubert
4. Thomas Yeates
5. Burne Hogarth
6. Jesse Marsh
7. Grey Morrow
8. John Buscema
9. Gil Kane
10. Mike Grell

Now keep in mind, this is a Tarzan specific list. Some of the comic book artists like Buscema and Kane would score higher on an overall list of favorite comic book artists. I'd have a real problem making a top ten list of my all time favorite comics artists. I'll give that some thought.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Reading Report

The weekend was absorbed mostly with the Letters of Robert E. Howard and assorted REH short stories, and I've already talked about all of that. Monday I did a re-read of A Savage Place, another one or Robert B. Parker's early Spenser novels. Currently I'm about 100 pages into Gateways, another of my dwindling supply of Repairman Jack novels. In this one, Jack's father has been injured in an accident and Jack has to fly down to Florida to help his comatose dad. However it soon appears that the accident may not have been so accidental. There's also a creepy group of backwoods mutants living in the everglade swamps who are apparently spawn of the Otherness, the supernatural force that Jack has run into before. F. Paul Wilson never ceases to amaze me with this narrative force. First 100 pages just flew by.
I have several books on order. In fact at least two of them are waiting for me at Dr. No's right now. There are also a couple of books I've asked for from my parents for Christmas and some books I plan to buy after the holidays, so with any luck I've got plenty of interesting reading ahead of me.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Important safety tip. Don't store your ground cinnamon and your chili powder side by side, particularly if they are made by the same company and come in bottles which are identical save for the label. Guess it could have been worse. Cinnamon in the chili wasn't too bad, where as chili powder in the oatmeal probably would have been a bit of a surprise...

Monday, November 10, 2008

The Devil You Don't Know

I did manage to dig up my copy of Marvel's Savage Sword of Conan #19 and read Don Glut's adaptation and completion of Robert E. Howard's Solomon Kane fragment The Castle of the Devil. Glut's version gets off to a slightly different start as the person Kane rescues from the gallows is a nubile and nude young lady as opposed to the young boy of the prose version. Aside from that, the events and dialogue stay true to REH right up until the final line of the fragment. After that, Glut takes us into his own brand of horror tale. Glut's Baron Von Staler, the titular devil, was born deformed, having the lower body of a goat so that he does bear a resemblance to old scratch. He's made a pact however with the real devil, who, for the requisite number of sacrificial virgins, will cure the Baron's deformity, making him entirely human. Solomon Kane and his newly met ally John Silence show up in time to save the most recent virgin. The baron isn't about to let his chance to be human escape though and much bloodshed ensues.
I enjoyed Glut's version of Castle quite a bit. I've long been a fan of Glut's Gold Key heroes Dagar the Invincible and Dr. Spektor, a barbarian warrior and an occult detective respectively. In Glut's take on Kane we get a little of both heroes as the sword wielding Kane steps firmly into Spektor's stomping grounds. There are some fun gothic overtones in the dark castle and Glut works in references to Dracula and Frankenstein. A few issues of Savage Sword later, Kane will have an adventure at Castle Frankenstein in fact. Glut has a long history of writing tales about the Frankenstein monster both in comics and in prose.
For more about Don Glut, check out an interview I did with him a few years back. The link should be at the bottom of this post. I enjoyed talking to Glut and he said I'd made his day when I told him that as a child I actually played at being Dr. Spektor in my back yard, fighting mummies and vampires and the like. I was apparently the first person who'd ever told him that.

Letters From Cimmeria

Spent a good part of the weekend reading the third and final volume of the Collected Letters of Robert E. Howard. I had a lot of mixed emotions as I read through this volume. It's the one that contains the most information about Conan. The years 1933-1936 was when Howard was working hard on the tales of the burly Cimmerian. All the quotes I've read in various Conan related books and articles over the years come from the letters in this time frame. It was interesting to see them in their proper context.
However it's also the volume that contains Howard's last letters. The book is broken up by years, so as I reached 1936 I knew that Howard was fast approaching the end of his life. The tone of his letters doesn't really change though there is more mention of his mother's declining health. Much has been made about the motives for Howard's suicide, but I won't speculate on that here. I once read that suicide occurs when someone's pain exceeds their capacity to cope, and I think that's true.
There was one strange little moment as I was reading through Howard's letters for June of 1935. Howard liked to travel around as much as he could and he always kept up his correspondences from wherever he was. I'm reading along and suddenly there are two letters mailed from Santa Fe New Mexico. I immediately emailed Laura to tell her that Howard had visited her hometown.
A few pages later, in a letter to H.P. Lovecraft, there is a detailed account of Howard's visit to Santa Fe. He was only there for two days, and he talks mostly about the crowds of tourists and the mountain vistas. However he does mention that he went to the Governor's Palace which had been made into a museum even back in 1935. While I was in Santa Fe in June of this year I also visited that museum. I'm sure it's quite different than it was then but the fact remains that I have walked through the same space as Robert E. Howard. There's a building we've both been in. I find that kind of neat. I've had lunch in Conan Doyle's favorite hotel bar. I've sat at the desk where Charles Dickens wrote David Copperfield. I've held letters written by Mark Twain. I've sat at J.R.R. Tolkien's table in the Eagle and Child pub in Oxford. Now I've crossed paths with REH. I hope to make a trip to Texas in the not too distant future to see my pal Lanny and to visit the Robert E. Howard museum in Cross Plains.
Anyway, I finished up Letters Volume III last night not long before bedtime. No more missives from Two-Gun Bob as Lovecraft called him. However next year there will be two volumes that collect the correspondence between Howard and Lovecraft. I'll be able to read both sides of their often long and drawn out arguments and discussions without having to look through half a dozen books. So I'm not quite done with the letters of Robert E. Howard.

Rocky Balboa

After I was so taken with Sylvester Stallone's 2008 return to Rambo, I'd been meaning to watch his most recent take (2006) on his signature character, Rocky Balboa. I picked up a copy a few weeks back for five bucks at Movie Stop and finally sat down to watch it yesterday.
Loved it. Absolutely loved it. I'd seen all the Rocky films in the theater back in the day, and always enjoyed them. During my years of teaching and studying karate, whenever I'd have a lull in my training or not be feeling up to speed I'd pop a Rocky movie into the VCR and watch him training and I'd get fired up again. My brother always felt the same. So we had a little connection to Rocky that most movie goers were probably missing.
Anyway, in this one an aging Rocky is running a restaurant named for his departed and sorely missed wife Adrian. He is estranged from his son who can't get past living in the shadow of his old man who is living legend in Philly. When a sports show computer simulation shows that Rocky in his prime would have creamed the current heavy weight champ, the champ's sleazy promoters offer Rocky the chance to climb back into the ring against the heavyweight champion of the world. Rocky, dealing with his own private demons and feeling sidelined by life, agrees to the crazy idea and goes into training one last time. Watching these scenes I got that old familiar feeling. Made me want to run down to the fitness center and jump on the treadmill for a few miles.
I was somewhat concerned that Stallone would kill Rocky in this one. You know, he wins the fight but dies from injuries and all. But no, Rocky comes through just fine. He loses the fight on a split decision, but he wins in all the ways that matter.
A nice bit was that the young champ is also portrayed sympathetically. He's got his own problems and his own challenges and in the end he's faced them just like Rocky.
There are plenty of callbacks to the earlier films and some nice in-jokes for long time fans of the series. Stallone turns in an amazing performance, playing the slightly punchy Rocky as a likeable and decent human being, grieving for his lost wife and trying to move on. In the end that's the final message of the film. It isn't how much punishment you can dish out, but ultimately how much you can take and still keep moving forward. As both Rocky and Sly have proven, it's not over until it's over.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Conan the Detective

While I was looking for the Robert E. Howard historical fiction stories mentioned below I happened across another story I hadn't read, with the absolutely terrific title of Names in the Black Book. This is one of Howard's few forays into detective fiction, a genre he didn't at all care for, but one that he sometimes attempted. Howard says "I can scarcely stand to read a detective story, let alone write one."
I've read a couple of his other crime yarns featuring tough guy detective Steve Harrison. You can tell that REH wasn't much for detective fiction. The three of his Harrison stories that I've read have more to do with his usual sort of adventure story than with whodunits.
The one I read today, Names in the Black Book, could very easily have been another historical adventure really. The Oriental mean gangster Erlik Khan is out for revenge against the people who betrayed him in an earlier Harrison story. He writes their names in his book of the dead with crimson ink on black pages, thus the title. Khan is sort of a poor man's Fu Manchu. Howard was a big reader of Sax Rohmer's Fu Manchu books and he created several "yellow peril" villains. Khan sends scorpions and snakes and assassins clad in black silk robes after the good guys. Harrison is eventually captured but escapes with the aid of an Afghan warrior right out of one of REH's El Borak stories. I kid you not. In the final third of the story, Harrison and the Afghan hold off all of Erlik Khan's minions with a mace and a sword respectively. It really does turn into a Conan yarn for all intents and purposes. And Harrison himself? You guessed it. Black hair, massive muscles, and "cold blue eyes." I'm starting to think that Cormac Fitzgeoffrey was a direct descendant of Conan and Steve Harrison a descendant of both earlier heroes.
Anyway, Names in the Black Book isn't one for people who like to wonder who killed Professor Plum in the library, but if you want a rip-snorting, two fisted detective story, you could do worse. In fact, now that I think of it, in some ways Howard's hero Harrison prefigures Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer. Though Spillane points up Caroll John Daly's Race Williams as being his main influence for Mike Hammer, I suppose it's possible that he might have read the Steve Harrison yarns as well.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Conan the Crusader

Even though I've been reading and collecting the works of Robert E. Howard for many years, I occasionally come across Howard stories that I haven't read. Not Conan of course, nor Solomon Kane or any of REH's more famous characters. I exhausted the supply of those long ago. No, usually it's a historical adventure or weird tale.
Case in point. The other day I was reading an article about Howard's historical fiction and the author mentioned the two Cormac Fitzgeoffrey tales set during the third crusade as being particularly Conan-like. So I says to myself, I says, you know, I don't think I've read those. I went and dug through my several dozen volumes of REH and couldn't turn up any stories about Fitzgeoffrey.
A quick internet check showed that unlike much of Howard's output, these two stories hadn't been reprinted dozens of times. Both stories had originally appeared in 1931 in Oriental Stories, the short lived companion pulp to Weird Tales and up until 2004, neither story had been reprinted in the US since the 1979 Donald Grant volume Hawks of Outremer. No wonder I didn't own them. However both are now available in several different volumes. I haven't ordered one yet though because I seemed to recall that Project Gutenberg Australia had etexts of a bunch of REH's historical yarns online and a quick perusal of their SF section brought to light Hawks of Outremer and The Blood of Belshazzar, the two completed Cormac Fitzgeoffrey stories. There is a fragment and a synopsis for a third story, The Slave Princess, which has been completed by other hands a time or two. I don't usually like to read etexts, but I was in a hurry to read these two stories and couldn't get my hands on a book that contained them quickly, so I made do.
I read Hawks of Outremer last night. It's basically a tale of revenge, as Cormac Fitzgeoffrey returns to Outremer (the general name given to the crusader states established after the first crusade) after being thought killed at sea, only to learn that Sieur Gerard, a man to whom Cormac owes his life, has been foully murdered by person or persons unknown. Cormac sets out to kill pretty much anyone even remotely involved and much carnage follows.
He starts out by splitting the skull of another knight who refused to come to Gerard's aid and the body count rises from there.
Cormac is indeed very much cut in the Conan mold. Six foot something of iron muscle with "a square cut black mane" of hair and "cold blue eyes blazing under heavy brows." Cormac even thinks of himself as a barbarian. He's inhumanly powerful just as Conan is. At one point in the story, when faced with a barrier of heavy iron bars, Cormac grips the bars and tears them from their anchor just as everyone's favorite Cimmerian would. When faced with a greater number of foes than even he can defeat, he prepares to leap in and die among them, taking as many with him as he can. Not to hard to imagine this story as a latter day Conan tale. Very enjoyable.
It's always fun to discover something of Howard's that I haven't read and doubly so when it's something close to a Conan tale, because as we know, Conan remains my favorite REH character. I've printed out Blood of Belshazzar to read this weekend. Looking forward to a bloody good time with Cormac on crusade.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Checking It Twice

Officially started Christmas shopping yesterday. By that I mean that I bought my first gift. I'd actually started my Christmas list about a month back. I treat Christmas shopping like a military operation. Most of the hard work is done in the planning stage. Then I descend in a couple of lightning quick attacks and it's over. I have ten people on my list and I've picked out gifts for eight of them. I'm hoping to have one of the two remaining gifts decided on today. (Waiting for Intel.)
Basically my plan is, as usual, to be done with my shopping by Thanksgiving. Then I can just sit back and watch the chaos...

Monday, November 03, 2008

Reading Report

Having finally satiated myself with stories of goulies and ghosties and long leggedy beasties, I switched to reading crime fiction this weekend for a bit, doing a re-read of Robert B. Parker's 1975 Spenser novel, Mortal Stakes. It's interesting to see how much more verbose Parker was back in the early days of his long running series. He's gotten his minimalist approach to writing so finely tuned now that he almost appears to be writing Haiku. I think Parker's work has come to resemble that of Ernest Hemingway over the years as he has pared description and dialogue down to an absolute minimum, and yet he still manages to tell an entertaining story.
I made something of a jump back to horror by reading 'The Castle of the Devil', a Solomon Kane fragment by Robert E. Howard that was completed by Ramsey Campbell. I've waxed enthusiastic here before about Campbell's horror fiction and his own sword & sorcery hero Ryre. Though I'm not usually fond of "posthumous collaborations" Campbell was possibly the best choice for an author to finish off REH's Kane fragments. (There are three in the Baen Books collection Solomon Kane.) Since I've mentioned before that I think sword & sorcery was created from a mix of historical fiction and horror fiction, it seems that a writer of horror is perhaps a better choice to complete a REH story than a fantasy writer, especially in the tales of Kane, which tended to be dark and filled with horrors anyway. And Campbell's Ryre is much closer in temperament to Solomon Kane that to Conan.
I won't say that Campbell writes anything like Howard. In fact I think he did the right thing by not even trying. What you get in Castle of the Devil isn't pure Howard or pure Campbell, but rather a synthesis that works. The finished writing doesn't feel exactly like Campbell's other work either. It does make me wonder how Campbell might have completed one of Howard's Conan fragments. I'm thinking specifically of the one which has become known as The Hand of Nergal. It starts off with quite a bit of horrific imagery and I think Campbell could have done a good job with it. Fond though I am of the late Lin Carter, I don't think he really grasped what REH was going for when Lin did his own completion of Nergal. Recently Tim Truman has done a more Howardesque version in the Dark Horse Comics adaptation of the fragment. Dark Horse is currently publishing a Solomon Kane comic book adaptation and completion of Castle of the Devil. Read the second issue this week and it's pretty good so far. Come to think of it, I think Don Glut (writer creator of Dagar the Invincible) did an adaptation of 'Castle' as a back up in Savage Sword of Conan many years ago. Might have to look that up, since as we know, I own a full run of the magazine.

Saturday, November 01, 2008


I started Singular Points on November 1st, 2006, so here I am two years later and still blogging. I notice that this year I've fallen off somewhat. In 2007 I averaged a post a day. I'll fall short of that by about a third for 2008. I think this is mostly because in the first full year of the blog I was still caught up in the newness of blogging and I would write a post about anything that occurred to me. That's sort of worn off, so now I'm usually only blogging when I actually have something to say. My posts have grown longer but fewer as a result.
It's funny because knowing that I'm a writer, many people assumed that I've always kept a journal. Nope. I like to write fiction but I was never interested in any sort of diary or journal. So a blog has been a new experience for me. I've tried to balance it out with posts about what's going on in my life, book reviews, and the occasional essay. Back when I belonged to an APA, (amateur press association) I always treated my apa-zine like a small magazine rather than a journal. That's pretty much what I've done here as well.
Anyway, I'm still enjoying having the blog, so I'll be around for a while. Thanks to everyone who's shown interest in my ramblings. Hopefully I'll continue to have some stories and such that are, as Sherlock Holmes would say, "not without their singular points of interest."

Friday, October 31, 2008

A Demon in My View

Here's a little Halloween story for you. My grandmother's family lived for years in an old house that was actually a house within a house within a house. See, the old homestead had originally been a log cabin and then another house had been built on part of the same foundation and still used the original chimney. Then years later the family extended the house by adding on to the second house.
Here's the beginning of the creepy part. When they added on they covered over one of the interior windows, but left the window in place on the outside of the house, so the house has a window on the outside that isn't on the inside. As a child this absolutely fascinated me. They had locked the window and left the curtains and blinds in place when they had walled it up, so you couldn't actually look into the window. Many times I tried, stacking up bricks or boxes so I could climb up and try to see into the room that wasn't there.
Here's where things get creepier. I was talking to one of my second cousins, who had lived in the house when she was a small girl and she told me about an experience she had there. The place was built in an old fashioned style where the front door opened into a wide hallway that led straight to the kitchen in the back of the house and doorways on either side of this hall opened onto bedrooms and such. There was a very narrow flight of steps just inside the front door that led up to an attic. The attic had one of those doors which was flush with the ceiling so you had to push it upwards. I remember going up there a few times as a kid and it was a very dark and spooky place. What little light the room had was supplied by a single naked bulb and one small window at the far end.
Anyway, my cousin said that one Christmas when she was five or six the family was having a party there at the house and she was standing in the doorway of the parlor when she heard a creaking noise from the front of the house. She wandered down the hall and heard the sound again which caused her to look up the stairs to the attic door. The door was open just a crack and she could see some...thing looking down at her.
She described it as 'the devil' saying that it had yellow eyes like a cat's, a mouth full of sharp teeth, and curling horns like those of a goat. What she could see of its body was covered in shiny red scales. The thing was apparently crouched in the attic and holding the door open. She could see the fingers of one clawed hand on the edge of the door. Then the creature brought its other hand into the light from the hall and beckoned to her.
She ran screaming back to the parlor and when her mother accompanied her back to the foot of the attic stairs, the monster was gone. Our memories often play us false, especially our childhood memories, and I figure this was really a dream that my cousin had, though she remembered it as something that actually occurred. Still the details impressed me. Particularly the hand holding the door open so the thing could peer down the stairs. Not the sort of thing you'd expect a small child to invent.
Dream or imagined event it makes for a darn creepy story and somehow in my mind the tale of the demon on the stairs is always linked with that window on the outside that isn't on the inside. Because I figure if there is a demon residing in the old family home, it lives in the room that isn't there. Happy Halloween and pleasant dreams.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Adventure of the Peerless Peer

And speaking of Sherlock Holmes, I finally got a nice copy of one of the stranger Holmes pastiches, Phillip Jose Farmer's The Adventure of the Peerless Peer, a short novel which teams the world's greatest detective with Lord Greystoke, aka Tarzan of the apes. I'd been wanting to read this one for years, and I'd sort of read it before, but as Watson would say, I'm getting ahead of myself.
Though considered part of the Wold Newton canon, The Adventure of the Peerless Peer is a bit more tongue in cheek than most of Farmer's other Tarzan related novels. Set during World War I, the basic plot gimmick is a designer bacilli that can be chemically programmed to devour a specific foodstuff. This is kind of goofy. However, since the formula for this ravenous germ has fallen into the hands of Von Bork, the German spy who is the bad guy in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's 'final' Sherlock Holmes tale, His Last Bow, it's up to the aged Holmes and Watson to take up the chase.
Dispatched by Holmes' older brother Mycroft to Africa, Holmes and Watson share a series of sometimes comic adventures as they are exposed to two unstable American pilots (who will be immediately recognizable to fans of the pulps), engage in a running battle atop and within a Zeppelin, and are finally forced to leap from the damaged Zeppelin into the African jungles, where they are taken prisoner by the Germans.
They manage to escape their captors but are menaced by hista the snake, only to be saved by the timely arrival of Lord Greystoke. The rest of the book involves a lost city, a beautiful priestess, human sacrifice, and the other things one expects from a Tarzan book. There's also quite a bit of humor at the expense of Edgar Rice Burroughs' coincidence laden plots and Tarzan's tendency to lose his memory at the drop of a hat but it's good natured ribbing and show's Farmer's love for the source material.
One thing I did note when reading Peer was that Tarzan, when viewed from an outside perspective, is kind of scary. In Burroughs' novels, the ape man is shown mostly from the inside. His actions may be cruel or violent, but since we are privy to his thoughts, we know why he does what he does. Viewed from Watson's point of view, Greystoke is a man who eats raw meat, communicates with animals, and seems more than willing to kill anyone who gets in his way or simply annoys him. An interesting take on the character.
I mentioned above that I had sort of read the book before. See, Peerless Peer wasn't authorized by the Edgar Rice Burroughs Estate, and when it was reprinted later in the anthology The Misadventures of Sherlock Holmes, Philip Jose Farmer rewrote the novel as The Adventure of the Three Madmen, replacing Tarzan with Rudyard Kipling's jungle boy Mowgli. I'd read that one about a decade ago. Both versions are worth reading, since the Mowgli version has some different and additional material, but I much prefer the Tarzan version. But you'd expect that from me, wouldn't you?

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

In Re: Sherlock Holmes

Knowing of my fondness for Sherlock Homes, several people have emailed me, asking what I think about the new Sherlock Holmes movie currently being filmed with Robert Downey Jr. as the great detective. Well as Holmes would say, "It is a capital mistake to speculate before the facts, Watson," and I have very few facts. I have seen a couple of photographs showing Downey in a costume that looks rather like a Victorian street person, but I'm hoping that's a disguise. Holmes was big on disguises.
The director, Guy Ritchie has said that "The movie will be faithful to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's original stories", however he and Downey have also said there will be a lot more action. That's not completely out of character as the early Holmes stories listed Holmes as being an accomplished boxer, and fencer, and later he was shown to have studied ju-jitsu. (Misnamed as Baritsu) I'm okay with action sequences of course, though I do hope that Holmes' brilliant deductions aren't overlooked.
And speaking of deductions, here are a few I can make from the cast list. The cast contains Mary Morstan and Irene Adler. Morstan was the heroine of The Sign of Four and she married Watson after that novel. Irene Adler was the only woman who Holmes ever showed much interest in. So there are your probable romantic leads. Holmes'usual arch enemy Professor Moriarity isn't mentioned in the list so I'm hoping that means he isn't in the film at all. Really tired of Moriarity and every genius who tries to write a new Holmes film always seems to think he has to trot out this character who only appeared in one Holmes story and never actually on stage. He is referred to but never seen.
So anyway, I'm willing to wait and give the film a chance. I thought Downey was great in Iron Man and I've seen him do a British accent before so he can pull that part of it off. Would he have been my first choice for Sherlock Holmes? Nope. That would be Hugh Laurie of House M.D. I think he'd make a great Holmes. But I assume that the makers of the film are aiming at the youth audience so they wanted a cast that would appeal more to the Pirates of the Caribbean crowd. Jude Law is Watson and the two leading ladies are quite the hotties if that gives you any clue.
So my verdict for the moment is wait and see. It could be a lot of fun. And if it bombs, there's always Jeremy Brett on DVD.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Tales to Read With the Lights On

Beth has requested Halloween reading suggestions so I am stepping up. Of course if you read back through the last week or so of posts, you'll find that I've been giving a lot of Halloween ideas already. But I got more.
Last year I recommended Ray Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes. I'll put that at the top of this years list too, since I consider it one of the top Halloween reads of all time. Next I'll recommend Ramsey Campbell's collection of horror short stories, Alone With the Horrors. There are some gems in there that I guarantee will give you a shudder or two. I'm thinking of a particularly grisly little tale called "Call First."
Now, a little harder to come by, but worth the effort to seek out is Karl Edward Wagner's horror collection, In a Lonely Place. This book is worth owning purely for the short story "Sticks", (which many believe was ripped off by the makers of The Blair Witch Project) but it also contains "The River of Night's Dreaming", ".220 Swift," "In the Pines" and "Where the Summer Ends" which are not only some of the best of Wagner's work, but some of the finest horror stories I've ever read, period. I can't recommend this book enough and it's a crying shame that it's out of print.
Easier to come by and one of the scariest ghost stories I can recall is Barbara Michaels "Ammie Come Home". Not one to read when you're home alone late at night. You can probably find this one at your local used bookstore or even the library. Really creepy.
Oh and I've recommended F. Paul Wilson's "The Keep" before but I'll do so again. And if you want to go with Stephen King, my favorite is "Bag of Bones."
Anyway, those are my suggestions for your Halloween reading enjoyment. Don't blame me if you end up sleeping with the lights on.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

The Long Halloween

I just learned that Tom Fagan died a few days ago. Fagan, sometimes known as Mr. Halloween, was a comics fan and the man behind the Rutland Vermont Halloween parade. For anyone who grew up reading comic books in the 1970s, Tom was also a familiar face in the pages of the comics themselves. Over the years Superheroes from DC, Marvel, and even Gold Key were involved in Halloween stories set around Rutland and the Halloween parade. Usually Tom would make a guest appearance and often play a role in the plot. I got used to seeing Tom pop up in Batman, Justice League, Avengers, and Thor, he also appeared in Doctor Spector, Freedom Fighters, and various other comics. Probably the one everyone remembers best is Batman #237 because of the amazing art job by Neal Adams and Dick Giordano. I always enjoyed these early examples of meta-fiction and as a young comics fan I wondered who this Fagan guy was and how did he rate teaming up with all those super heroes? Years later I learned that many comics professionals attended the Rutland Halloween parade and knew Fagan personally. I was saddened by the news of Tom Fagan's death. He held a bright and spooky little spot in my childhood. He still does.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

And More halloween Reading

Continuing my Halloween reading, I read William Hope Hodgson's novel The House on the Borderland which is amazingly good since it's like 100 years old. It's a tale of alternate dimensions, astral journeys, and horrible monsters that climb out of a pit to menace a man and his sister in an ancient house. What more do you want? Available online at:

Tonight I read horror short stories by Henry Kuttner, Ramsey Campbell, and Robert E. Howard. And right now I'm about to read an essay about Hodgson by H.P. Lovecraft. The chills continue.

Monday, October 20, 2008

A Little Halloween Poetry

"If at his counsel I should turn aside
Into that ominous tract which, all agree,
Hides the Dark Tower. Yet acquiescingly
I did turn as he pointed: neither pride
Nor hope rekindling at the end descried,
So much as gladness that some end might be."

Everyone knows The Raven and other standard Halloween poems, so I thought I'd offer something a little different. Long before I knew anything about Stephen King's Dark Tower series, I'd been creeped out by Robert Browning's Poem 'Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came.' I had thought at one point it might make a good basis for a sword & sorcery story, but after learning that Mr. King had staked out that particular poem for himself I abandoned that idea. But I still love the poem and I still find it eerie and a little disturbing. It's too long to post the whole thing here so I'm supplying a link to an etext.

The Haunted Air

Well as expected I did end up reading F. Paul Wilson's Repairman Jack novel 'The Haunted Air' over the weekend. This is probably the most complex of the series so far, weaving so many subplots together that I sometimes had trouble keeping track. The main plot seems to be about two fraudulent spiritualists hiring Jack to find out who's trying to ruin their business and possibly kill them. But when Jack and his girlfriend Gia show up at the spiritualist's mansion, Jack's involvement with 'the otherness' causes something to awaken within the house, an angry spirit who has sinister plans for Jack, Gia, and their unborn child.
But wait. There's more. Jack takes a side job watching out for a man who's brother is afraid "he might do something violent' under a new moon. And this being an F. Paul Wilson novel, neither the man nor the brother are exactly what they appear to be. Wilson skillfully works all of these characters together as it slowly becomes apparent that all of these events are connected and all of them aimed at bringing Jack into the vengeful grasp of the otherness. There are call backs to previous novels, both in the Repairman Jack series and the six volume 'Adversary' series. Molasar or Rasalom or whatever he's calling himself these days isn't on the scene but his influence is felt.
As usual, Wilson ratchets up the suspense as the book progresses, bringing things to a slam bang and satisfying conclusion. There are enough ghostly happenings to make this a fine book for the Halloween season. There's one particularly creepy scene that takes place in the mansion's cellar where...but the would be telling. I can't recommend the Repairman jack series enough. I'm amazed it took me this long to find the books and I'm really having trouble not reading them all back to back.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Ain't it Funny How Time Slips Away

I went up to my brother's house today for my nephew Zack's 16th birthday party. Hard to believe he's 16 years old. He can look me in the eye now. Probably be taller than me next year and I'm 6'2". Of course his dad is 6'5".
Anyway I remember when he was born because I actually had to take his mom to the hospital. I was working at home back then writing Chinese comic books for Jademan Comics and my brother was many miles away at his job when his wife went into labor. He called me on the phone and told me to get his wife and get her to the hospital and he'd meet us there. No pressure.
So though I have no children I have made that ride that all father's dread to some degree. We made it just fine, but I had to turn around and head right back home because someone had to teach two classes that evening at the Karate dojo I ran with my brother. So when my nephew was being born I was actually teaching reverse punches. Anyway, Zack is quite the young man now. He'll be able to drive down and visit me on his own now. The mind boggles.

Monday, October 13, 2008

More Gothic Goings On

A friend of mine asked for help with a plot for a Halloween role playing game she was running and I obliged with a 6000 word short story of a plot based on my recent readings in the Gothic literature of the 1700s. I threw in every Gothic trope I could think of. A partially ruined castle. Ghosts. Secret passages. Dungeons. The living dead. Family secrets. Hidden identities and mysterious prisoners. Plus my usual swashbuckling fights and a couple of nasty villains.
As I was working through the plot though I found that I was basically using a structure I'd learned from mystery writer Ross MacDonald, the creator of Lew Archer and the author of many novels including The Drowning Pool, The Way Some People Die, Find a Victim, and my personal favorite, The Sleeping Beauty. As his fellow mystery writer Lawrence Block once pointed out, MacDonald really only had one plot. Sometime in the past, someone did something really bad, and years later it catches up to him and/or his children and destroys them. And really, that is the basic plot of many of the famous Gothic Novels. I'd heard MacDonald's work referred to as "American Gothic" in the past, but I never really got it until I plotted my own bit of Gothic fiction.

Halloween Reading

I like Halloween. I get a kick out of all the ghostly goings on. I like to watch scary movies and to read ghost stories and horror stories during October. Got things off to a good start with F. Paul Wilson's Repairman Jack novel Conspiracies. I know, I know. I promised I wasn't going to tear through all of Wilson's Jack books, but darn it, they're just so much fun. I've read um...five of them so far. And I must admit that I'm likely to read one more before Halloween because the next one in sequence, The Haunted Air, is about a ghost.
Anyway, in Conspiracies, Jack is hired to track down a missing woman who was due to give a speech at a convention for conspiracy theorists. He figures the Con is the best place to start so soon Jack is caught up in the world of UFOs, Bigfoot, Kennedy assassinations, Satanists, and all manner of conspiracy theories. Most of the people seem harmless enough, but a couple have enough screws loose and enough connections to the missing woman to draw Jack's attention.
Of course being a Repairman Jack book it doesn't take long for real supernatural occurrences to pop up. There's the brand new rope ladder halfway imbedded in unbroken and very old cement in a suburban basement. There are the inhuman twins dressed all in black who seem willing to kill anyone who gets in their way. And there's Professor Salvatore Roma and his demon monkey. And of course, if you're familiar with Wilson's work the name Sal Roma should tip you off that things could get very bad indeed.
This is a mile a minute thriller and one of my favorites of the Repairman Jack books so far.
Next I moved to some horror short stories by E.F. Benson. Benson was an English novelist who published several books in the early 1900s and who turned out an amazing group of creepy short stories. I first discovered him when I read his eerie tale 'Caterpillars' in a collection of horror stories a couple of years back.
H.P. Lovecraft was a fan of Benson's work, particularly of the story 'The Man Who Went Too Far'. I read this one last night along with 'The Thing in the Hall.' Couple of real chillers. Most of Benson's ghost storied are available in books and as PDF files online. If you want to give him a try, go to the link at the bottom of this post for links to Etexts. This is Benson's page at The Literary Gothic website. Plenty of other ghostly, ghouly authors available there too.
Finally I re-read Robert E. Howard's 'The Black Stone', which is probably Howard's best horror story after 'Pigeons From Hell', and is definitely his best Cthulhu Mythos tale. Worth tracking down. Figure I'll read some more shorts by Howard, Benson, Poe, and maybe Lovecraft before Oct. 31st arrives. And yeah, probably another Repairman Jack book too.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Wild and Wooly

I was talking to Cliff the other day about the current state of the Fantasy/Science Fiction book market, and how it seems that the sheer imagination and sense of wonder has just been leeched right out of the genre. The days are gone when people would write books where a 200 year old time traveler turns out to be Tarzan or where an alternate reality version of Adolph Hitler writes sword & sorcery novels or a college professor finds he can enter the worlds of fiction by the use of symbolic logic and so on and so forth. Instead in the SF world we seem to have an unending string of "Military" SF novels and vampire detective books.
Next door in the fantasy room we get endless Tolkien clones and thinly disguised romance novels about dragons and more vampires. I guess it's the feeling of sameness that bugs me. Fantasy and SF used to be a dangerous place. A wild an wooly place. Guys like Farmer and Moorcock and Ellison and Spinrad and Lieber were getting their dreams and nightmares down on paper. It wasn't a safe place but it wasn't a boring, predictable place. Maybe I'm just looking at the wrong authors these days but Fantasy/SF just seems like a cozy place where nothing strange or new is likely to happen. What should be the most wide open of all genres seems to be controlled by publishers. As Cliff noted, rather than finding new books and authors and looking for readers for them, now publishers seem to have a narrow list of categories that they want writers to fit into. So I keep digging through old books to find "something rich and strange."

Monday, October 06, 2008

Introducing Kellax

This weekend was a double XP (experience points) weekend in the Lord of the Rings Online. Since Kharrn the Barbarian has reached level 50, the highest level in the game (At least until the release of the Mines of Moria expansion) I decided to get an alternate character up and running. So meet Kellax, also a barbarian, but this time a Guardian Class instead of a Champion Class. Guards can't deal as much damage as Champs but they can take a lot more damage, so while Kellax can't kill stuff as quickly as his older brother, he can stay alive a lot longer. Guardians are the preferred tanks in most groups because they can get out front and take the heat while the other players do what needs to be done. (Though a champ with good armor can do much the same.) Anyway, I got Kellax up almost to level 18 over the weekend. It's taking a little getting used to, since I'm used to the monsters dieing much more quickly, but on the other hand, it's nice to have those extra hit points when things get hairy.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Welcome to the WNU

I've blogged before about Philip Jose Farmer's 'Wold Newton Family' but in case you missed that one I'll explain again. Wold Newton is a spot in Yorkshire County in England where a meteor struck in 1795. (A true event.) At the time that the meteor landed, two large coaches, containing fourteen passengers and four coachmen were passing by. (A fictional event.) The radiation from the meteor changed the genetic structure of these passengers who went on to be the ancestors of most of the fictional supermen of the next several decades, including Tarzan, Doc Savage, Sherlock Holmes, Nero Wolfe, Captain Nemo, and many others. Thus most of the pulp characters and heroes of popular fiction are related and owe their super human mental and or physical abilities to the Wold Newton event. This has become a sort of huge game played by writers and artists ever since Farmer introduced the idea. For more about it, see Win Scott Eckert's exhaustive Wold Newton site.
Beyond the Wold Newton Family there is the Wold Newton Universe. This parallel reality includes all the fictional characters who aren't necessarily part of the WN Family but who exist in the same reality. For instance Jonathan Dark, the protagonist of Lin Carter's Jandar of Callisto novels. While I was doing the research I mentioned below on Farmer's Tarzan related work, I noted the bit on Win's page about Jandar. Now since a parallel universe version of myself had met Jandar of Callisto in Secret masters of Callisto, my novella sequel to Carter's series, I wondered if that meant I had joined the Wold Newton Universe. I emailed Win, and he said, yep, I'm in the WNU. And if you've ever appeared in one of my stories, so are you.

Time's Last Gift

When I was a kid I read a lot of Science Fiction. Asimov, Heinlein, Bradbury, Herbert, the usual suspects. Once I discovered Edgar Rice Burroughs and Robert E. Howard I made the jump to reading more fantasy than SF (never never Sci-Fi) but I still enjoy reading the occasional SF novel or story, particularly if it deals with my favorite SF subject, time travel. Among my favorite time travel stories are Richard Matheson's Bid Time Return, L. Sprague de Camp's Lest Darkness Fall, Ray Bradbury's A Sound of Thunder, and my all time fave, Jack Finney's Time and Again. (Hmmm, I should put a list together for Julie.)
To the upcoming list I'm adding Philip Jose Farmer's 'Time's Last Gift', one of the best time travel yarns I've read in a long time. I'd been aware of the book for some time, having read quite a bit of Farmer's fiction over the years, but I'd never run across a copy in all my wandering through used bookstores. I was reminded of the book again the other day while researching Farmer's Wold Newton family (Something I'll talk about in a later post.) and I promptly jumped over to Amazon and ordered a used copy, as well as an anthology called Mother Was a Lovely Beast, edited by PJF. Time's Last Gift begins with a time traveling craft called the H.G. Wells I arriving in 12000 B.C. from 2070 A.D. Aboard are four scientists, chosen as the best of the best to make the first trip into time. The scientists are in the past to study our ancestors, the 'cave men' living in what will eventually be Europe.
The experiment gets off to a good start with the crew finding a small tribe of aborigines and gradually earning their trust. However things begin to take a strange turn when the leader of the team, a British doctor named John Gribardsun begins to go increasingly native, wearing nothing but a loin cloth and hunting along with the tribe using a spear and flint knife. The other scientists grow more and more dismayed as John proves to be faster, stronger, and a better hunter than any of the tribesmen. At one point he kills a rhinoceros with a spear and also downs a mammoth by attacking the creature's weak points. The doctor seems to be more savage than the savages. That's all the review you need. The next section of this review contains a major spoiler, so stop here if you plan on reading Time's Last Gift and wish to be surprised.

Still with me? Okay. Clues about the mysterious John G begin to mount up. John is six foot three inches tall with dark black hair, sun bronzed skin, and most telling, gray eyes. He is described as having the body of an Adonis and his physical abilities are more than human. Once he goes native he eats his meat raw. In snatches of conversation he reveals that he grew up in Africa and that he wasn't raised by human beings.
In case you're not picking up on this, John G is apparently actually John Clayton, Lord Greystoke, aka Tarzan of the Apes. Farmer never comes out and admits it, but there are other things, such as John's opinion of Hyenas that are drawn directly from the Tarzan novels. This is possible of course because in one of the later Tarzan books, Tarzan ingests an elixir (actually pills if memory serves) that makes him immortal. So he definitely could be hanging around in 2070, waiting to travel through time. At the end of the book, when the other scientists return to the present, John slips out of the H.G. Wells I so that he can remain in the past in a world he is more suited to. This also paves the way for Tarzan's appearances in the two Opar novels that farmer wrote where he is known as the "gray-eyed god". Farmer's fascination with the ape man seems endless and Tarzan or pseudo Tarzan appears in close to a dozen of Farmer's books, including one authorized Tarzan novel, The Dark heart of time. And speaking of time, the final clue to the identity of John Gribardsun may lie in the title of the book itself. The initials of Time's Last Gift are the same as Tarzan Lord Greystoke. A little last gift for the Tarzan fans out there.