Sunday, October 30, 2011

Welcome to Wellman

Just in time for Halloween, a short story by James A. Moore and Charles R. Rutledge, set in Wellman Georgia, a small town where it's best to stay out of the woods on Halloween night. This is a teaser for Jim's and my upcoming novel Blind Shadows, much of which takes place in the same town.

download the Pdf here:

Friday, October 28, 2011

Chicago Lightning: The Collected Nathan Heller Short Stories

I rarely review a book before I finish it, but Chicago Lightning: The Collected Nathan Heller Short Stories, is, rather obviously, a book of short stories, about half of which I've already read and the other half I'm looking forward to reading, and since the book came out this month, I wanted to tell everyone to go out and buy a copy, so I'm reviewing it now.
If you're not familiar with Nathan Heller, he's the hero of a long running series of historical private eye novels, the plots of which are always based on actual unsolved crimes and in which fictional characters interact with figures from history. At various times Heller has been involved in the Lindbergh kidnapping case, The Black Dalia Murder, the disappearance of Amelia Earhart, and most recently, (in this year's Bye Bye, Baby, which I bought, but haven't read yet) the death of Marilyn Monroe. Heller's cases span many decades and over the course of the series, the character grows and changes and ages in real time. The research done by author Max Allan Collins and his assistants is exhaustive, and the Heller books, in addition to being suspenseful mysteries, are fascinating portraits of other times. They are true historical novels, not just mysteries set in the past. The shorts are just as well researched and just as well written.
Of the short stories I've already read in this collection, most appeared in Robert J. Randisi's Private Eye Writers of America anthologies. These would include The Strawberry Teardrop, House Call, Marble Mildred, and Private Consultation. Probably my favorite of the stories so far, The Perfect Crime, originally appeared in Raymond Chandler's Phillip Marlowe, a book of Marlowe stories written by authors other than Chandler, which came out in 1988. Later Collins revised it into a Heller story. In a somewhat amusing incident, I actually bought my copy of the Chandler book at a Brentano's bookstore in San Diego one year when I was attending the San Diego Comic Con, and I promptly carried it back to the convention where Max Allan Collins was a guest and got him to sign it. Only a true bibliophile would take a break from a convention full of books and go to a bookstore. The Perfect Crime is about the death of actress Thelma Todd and is just a great story.
Anyway, once Halloween has passed and I settle down to reading something other than horror and ghost stories, I'll review some of the individual tales in the Heller collection. But don't wait for me. Pick up your own copy of Chicago Lightning (lightning was 1930s slang for machine gun fire) and while you're at it, get a copy of the first Heller novel, True Detective too. I think you'll like it.


A couple of posts ago I talked about the upcoming Dark Horse comics adaptation of Robert E. Howard's story Queen of the Black Coast and the fan based controversy surrounding the choice of Becky Cloonan as artist for the series. Cloonan had recommended that anyone interested in seeing how she would approach Conan check out her mini-comic Wolves. I dutifully ordered a copy and it arrived yesterday. I was very impressed. Wolves is a dark, moody, and very well drawn comic with a nice sword & sorcery vibe. Cloonan illustrates guys with swords, a werewolf, guys in plate armor and helmets, and woods as dark as those in Conan's homeland of Cimmeria, and she does a great job. I liked the fact that the ending is open to interpretation too. An impressive little comic that puts me in mind of Karl Edward Wagner's werewolf story, Reflections for the Winter of My Soul. Anyway, anyone concerned about Cloonan's chops for drawing Conan should definitely give Wolves a look. I liked what I saw.

If you'd like your own copy of Wolves go here.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Savage Memories #2

If you read my first installment of Savage Memories, you learned of my discovery of Marvel's black & white magazine, Savage Tales and how I saw, in that issue, an advertisement for the upcoming Savage Sword of Conan magazine. I ended that post without saying whether or not I managed to get that first coveted issue of Savage Sword when it reached the stands. The answer Never even saw it. If any copies showed up at Blair's Food Town, the supermarket where I got most of my comics in the 1970s, I never saw them. Later I learned that they tended to only get two copies each of the various Marvel black & white mags. If I saw them and didn't have enough money on me to buy them, (My mom would spring for a 25 cents color comic but not a magazine that went for a buck.) I did what countless comic book fans have done for years. I hid them behind the stacks of Good Housekeeping and Sports Illustrated until I could get back with the cash. The trick was to go grocery shopping with my grandmother. She would buy all the comics I wanted without batting an eye, and better yet, she never even glanced at them, so the somewhat gory/sexy SSoC covers slipped right by.
Anyway, several months passed and I didn't see any issues of Savage Sword. Then, one Saturday morning when I accompanied the aforementioned grandmother to Blair's, I spotted a very Frazetta-ish cover painting featuring Conan facing off against what appeared to be a group of cave-men. Yes! An honest to gosh issue of Savage Sword of Conan. It was issue #7. So six issues had gotten past me. But not this one.
The Citadel at the Center of Time turned out to be one of my favorite issues of the early Savage Sword of Conan. In this story, written by Roy Thomas and illustrated by John Buscema and Alfredo Alcala, Conan runs afoul of a sorcerer who has found a way to pull artifacts out of different points in the time stream. The catch is, he has to put something in to get something out and the time pool he's discovered seems to prefer living beings to trade. Conan almost ends up in this pool (more of a well, really) but he manages to escape by fighting his way past cave-men, ape-men, and a tyrannosaurus.
This issue also featured part four of "An Informal History of Sword & Sorcery" by Lin Carter, and the first part of Thomas's adaptation of Robert E. Howard's essay, The Hyborian Age, with art by Walter Simonson. An all around great issue.
So now I knew more or less when SSoC shipped, you would figure I'd be able to get the magazine regularly, right? As it turned out, no. One of the problems of not being old enough to drive, mostly, but more about that later.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Conan, the Controversial

The announcement that the creative team for Dark Horse Comics adaptation/expansion of Robert E. Howard's classic Conan story Queen of the Black Coast would be writer Brian Wood and artist Becky Cloonan has set the interwebs abuzz with comments, not surprisingly many of them uninformed and premature. Just from the few sketches and one color illo provided, I've heard Cloonan's version of Conan called everything from Emo Conan to Twilight Conan. Other comments attached to the art include pencil necked, too skinny, too manga, and too much eye makeup. Here's the deal folks. These are preliminary sketches. Let's wait and see what the comic book looks like.
I have a few reservations myself but I had some about Conan:Road of Kings artist Mike Hawthorne in the beginning and I ended up liking his version of Conan enough to buy a commission for Crom's sake. What did I learn from that? My knee jerk reaction isn't always an accurate one. (No, no. It's true.) I was familiar with Wood (more on that later) from his Viking series Northlanders. Cloonan I knew not at all. So I googled around and came up with enough of her artwork to see that she's very talented. I also have ordered her self published comic Wolves from her website, which she says is in the Conan genre. I'll review it when I get it.
The main positive thing I've noted from the sketches and art is there's a tremendous amount of energy and character to her drawing. I think Belit looks great, and since at least half the story is hers, that's a good thing. I would like to see some drawings of Conan and Belit together to get some scale however.
I've made no secret that John Buscema is THE Conan artist for me. He always will be. But that doesn't mean that I can't wrestle down the rabid fanboy who lives in the back of my brain who is screaming that anything that doesn't follow Buscema's lead is wrong. It's kind of like when another singer does a cover of a favorite song. If they stick too close to the original people call them unoriginal and if they stray too far, people say they've ruined the song.
So anyway, trying to keep an open mind here, just like I did with the Conan movie. Yeah it was awful, but I didn't decide that until I was sitting in the theater. So I plan to give Becky Cloonan's Conan a chance as well.
As far as Wood goes, my biggest concern is that he is admittedly not a long time fan and reader of Robert E. Howard. But I know he can write hard hitting comics and that's a start. I almost wish he were doing an original tale rather than an adaptation. Maybe later. Truthfully, at the moment, the writing concerns me more than the art, but again, let's give the guy a shot.

Weekend Report

The weekend was fairly low key. I did a lot of writing. Jim and I have passed the 75 thousand word mark on the novel and are starting to turn things toward the end. We're estimating about 100k for the first draft. I got to play with some non-Euclidian geometry, which was fun.
Obviously I watched Hocus Pocus, which I reviewed below. Also watched several more episodes of season one of Supernatural. The series gains more weight as the episodes go, delving further into the lives and minds of brothers Sam and Dean Winchester. I found an episode set in an abandoned mental institution one of the strongest yet, and one with a faith healer had a nice twist. For every life the healer saved, somebody else had to die.
Read some good comic books. In addition to Conan: Road of Kings issue #9, I also read Marvel's Avengers 1959, written and illustrated by Howard Chaykin. I had thought the first issue so-so, but issue #2 really picks up the pace as Chaykin sends Nick Fury and his 1950s era allies into battle against a resurrected Nazi movement, which include some villains from Roy Thomas's World War Two era series, The Invaders. Possibly the most fun bit is Chaykin's linking of a very recognizable British secret agent to Fury's team. Who is he? That would be telling. Let's just say this nattily dressed fellow in a bowler hat was once an Avenger himself.
Also read the first issue of the DC/IDW crossover between The Legion of Super Heroes and Star Trek. Yeah, I know it sounds crazy, but it was actually a lot of fun. Writer Chris Roberson seems to be the perfect choice for this title as he is a huge fan of both Trek and the Legion. I'm including a link to an interview with Roberson at the bottom of this post. Thing is, Roberson has an ear for dialogue that sounds like the Classic Trek crew, and his Legionnaires ring true as well. There's plenty of crossover stuff from both series' universes and all kinds of in-jokes and references. Looking forward to the next issue. Oh, there were several variant covers for the first issue. I'm posting the one by Keith Giffin because this is probably as close as we're ever going to get to a drawing of Mr. Spock by Jack Kirby.
And I started The Dark at the End, the final (kind of) book in F. Paul Wilson's long running Repairman Jack series. I say 'kind of' because Wilson reveals in this book that though this volume does end Jack's adventures, he is going to write three novels that take place early in Jack's career, presumably showing what happened between Wilson's Young Adult Jack series and the first official Repairman Jack adventure, The Tomb. (Which famously doesn't have a tomb in it.)
Anyway, The Dark at the End leads into the sixth and final book in Wilson's 'Adversary' cycle, Night World. I've read Nightworld, but a somewhat revised edition is supposed to come out next year, so I'll give that a read when it hits the shelves.
So there ya go. That was pretty much the weekend. There was some Lord of the Rings Online playing in there too, and a few other things, but mostly some good reading and viewing.

Here's the link to the Roberson interview:

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Hocus Pocus

Jim and I were talking about Halloween movies and he brought up Hocus Pocus, a 1993 Disney film that I've always had a soft spot for. This is a great movie for the Halloween season because it takes place at Halloween and is full of Trick or Treaters, autumn leaves, the full moon, Halloween parties, and other such All Hallow's Eve imagery. It also has the advantage of sumptuous Disney production values. Beautiful sets, great costumes and top of the line (for 1993) special effects. I re-watched it last night.
The movie is about three Witches who were hung on Halloween in Salem 300 years earlier. Winifred Sanderson, the leader of the trio of sister witches (played by Bette Midler) manages to cast a last minute spell so that she and her sisters Sarah (Sarah Jessica Parker) and Mary (Kathy Najimy) can return from the dead.
Enter Max Dennison (Omri Katz) a California kid who's family has just moved to Salem. While out trick or treating with his younger sister Dani (a very young Thora Birch) Max unwittingly releases the three witches while trying to impress local girl Allison (Vinessa Shaw).
Now here's where the movie veers off into slightly creepy territory. The witches' spell only allows them to return to life for one night. In order to stay alive, they need the souls of children. A lot of children. In fact in the first five minutes of the film, the three sisters kill a little girl by quite literally sucking out her life force. To do this they use a spell from a book that is bound in human skin. They also curse a young man to live eternally as a black cat and poison another man, sew his mouth shut, and turn him into a zombie. And given comments the witches make as the movie progresses the sisters are apparently cannibals and enjoy eating children.
This may explain why the movie never found it's target audience in initial release. While ostensibly a comedy/adventure/musical/fantasy film, the children in jeopardy plot might have been a little strong for kids under eight. While the movie wasn't the flop a lot of articles claim (it grossed 45 million) it was far from a hit during its initial release. It has since become very popular on video and DVD.
Anyway, the witches are fun. Najimy is zany, Parker is sexy, and Midler chews the scenery like nobody's business. There are a lot of funny moments and the young members of the cast are good. I recommend this as a fun, slightly scary, family film, with a great Halloween vibe, but be aware there are some moments that might be a bit much for smaller children.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Conan Road of Kings #9

The good news is someone ran off the creepy giant bugs who were attacking Conan and his small charge, Albiona at the end of Conan: Road of Kings issue #8. The bad news is the bugs were sent packing by ZOMBIES, so the first several pages of Road of Kings issue #9 were a torch lit battle with the undead horrors. But the good news is the fight with the zombies was ably illustrated by artist Dan Panosian, who is spelling regular series artist Mike Hawthorne for two issues.
Panosian's approach is a bit more rough hewn that the team of Hawthorne and inker John Lucas,(And by that I mean that Panosian's work has a more textured feel to it. Different inking style.) but it fits in nicely with the overall look of the mini-series. I enjoyed his art quite a bit.
Once again veteran Conan writer Roy Thomas puts more story and plot into one issue of a comic than many of today's comic book writers use in a six issue arc. Let me give a couple of examples. During the battle with the zombies Conan banters with a Gunderman Priest named J'honn. This may seem just an entertaining way to counterpoint the grim and deadly goings on, but it also makes you like and care about J'honn. In books we call this characterization. In comics we call this rare.
Also, the little girl Albiona, whom Conan is protecting, actually saves the big Cimmerian at one point, when he has fallen under a mass of the zombie attackers, by setting one of the creatures on fire. This will matter near the end when Conan has a chance to basically get out of Dodge, but he won't leave the child to her fate. Even way back to his Marvel days writing Conan, Roy Thomas understood the sort of rough honor the character displayed in the original REH stories. Conan might have been a thief and a killer, but he wouldn't desert a comrade, even if that comrade is just a child.
And there is yet another character driven surprise waiting at the end of the story. Amid all the action, monsters, and magic, Thomas is still telling a story about people. That's writing, folks.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The 2011 Fright Flick Festival

As I noted in an earlier post, I haven't had as much time to do Halloween stuff this October as last year, but I am still working in some Halloween Movies. In addition to the two Lovecraft related films reviewed below, I have watched:

The Haunting. (1963) Pretty much an annual Halloween tradition for me. based on Shirley Jackson's novel, The Haunting of Hill House, this is the haunted house film to end all haunted house films and it remains my favorite scary movie.

King Kong. (1933) One of the classics. I don't know how many times I've seen it, but I never get tired of it. The special effects were groundbreaking for the day and many of them were used right up to the arrival of Computer Generated Imagery.

Next in Line:

Bubba Ho-Tep. (2002) Terrific adaptation of Joe Lansdale's creepy, funny, outrageous novella about an aging Elvis Presley fighting a Mummy in a retirement home in rural Texas. Bruce Campbell is great as The King, who as it turns out, didn't actually pass away in 1977.

Trick or Treat (2007) Haven't seen this anthology film yet but a couple of friends recommended it to me, and my pal Jim loaned me a copy.

I'm also still watching episodes of the first season of Supernatural and enjoying them quite a bit. Got a couple of other ideas for the season as well. I'll keep you posted.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Lovecraft: Fear of the Unknown

If you are a fan of the works of H.P. Lovecraft, then you need to see the documentary Lovecraft: Fear of the Unknown and if you know absolutely nothing about Lovecraft, then you need to see Lovecraft: Fear of the Unknown.
For the knowledgeable, this is a fascinating look at Lovecraft, both his life and his work, and it features interviews with folks who have been influenced by Lovecraft, including authors Ramsey Campbell, Neil Gaiman, Peter Straub, and Caitlin R. Kiernan and with filmmakers John Carpenter and Guillermo del Toro.
For the uninitiated, this is an excellent place to start as the documentary functions both as biography and as a critical look at Lovecraft's best known stories, including Dagon, The Call of Cthulhu, The Rats in the Walls, and The Dunwich Horror.
What I enjoyed the most was that the information about the stories was given in historical context, as in here is where Lovecraft was and what was going on in his life when he wrote such and such a story. As a fan and a writer, I found this very interesting. All of this is covered in other places but the documentary gives it to you in a nice, concise way. As I said, great for someone looking to learn about Lovecraft. At right at 90 minutes there's a ton of information, so the documentary is good for repeated viewings. I know I'll be watching it again.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

The Dunwich Horror 1970

I had always heard that the 1970 movie version of H.P. Lovecraft's The Dunwich Horror was really bad, however I just watched it and found it entertaining. Oh sure it doesn't stick that closely to the original short story, which doesn't make me happy, but most of the main plot points are there, though filtered through a 1970s post-Rosemary's Baby sensibility.
I don't think Dean Stockwell is anybody's idea of Wilbur Whately, the spawn of a human mother and Lovecraft's great old one, Yog-Sothoth. he plays the character as a sort of mild satyr, never seeming truly evil.
As I noted, this is a very 1970s film and there's a lot talk about sex and psychology, but the sex scenes in the film consist mostly of Stockwell fondling Sandra Dee and of Sandra moaning a lot for no apparent reason. And there are a lot of people in robes and the occasional pentagram to make things seem vaguely satanic, though at one point Whately does point out that he doesn't believe in God or Satan, but rather in beings from another dimension.
The best parts for a Lovecraft fan are the constant mentions of great old ones, the Necronomicon, and other Lovecraft tropes. The movie even ends on more or less the same line as Lovecraft's story. All and all, far from the worst Lovecraft adaptation I've ever seen.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Conan The Gothic

I have seen the theory put forward that Robert E. Howard read at least a couple of the Gothic novels of the 1700s-1800s, but I haven't seen any hard evidence of this. He doesn't mention them in his letters, except in passing, and none were found among the books in his library after his death. The main reason I think it highly unlikely is that books such as the Castle of Otranto and the Mysteries of Udolpho were rather difficult to come by in the 1930s, and especially out in the middle of Texas. Not impossible, mind you. Howard Often sent away for books, and someone like H.P. Lovecraft could have loaned him something, but even had he gotten his hands on them, he might have found the Gothic classics deathly dull. (I found Otranto a real slog. )The only mention (that I can recall) Howard makes of one of the 'standard four' as Karl Edward Wagner termed The Monk, Melmoth The Wanderer, and the two books mentioned above, is noting a copy of Otranto in the library of the character Conrad in the horror story The Children of the Night. There's little doubt REH was familiar with the Gothics since he had read H.P. Lovecraft's essay Supernatural Horror in Literature, but as I said, no hard evidence exists that he ever read any of the novels.
Which brings me to the Conan tale, The Black Stranger, a story with an oddly Gothic structure. I'll be using a list of Gothic tropes included with Lilia Melani's 'The Gothic Experience" a course related website from Brooklyn College, to show what I mean. I used the same list when I looked at Karl Edward Wagner's The Gothic Touch a few years back.

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

In the third part of his essay, Hyborian Genesis, Patrice Louinet points out that little is known about the composition of The Black Stranger, though it was apparently meant as a follow up to Beyond the Black River, and was another tale of frontier dwellers versus savages. He goes on to mention certain similarities of names and themes to Hawthorne's Scarlett Letter, though he feels this was probably unintentional. Howard probably read Hawthorne in school.
However on one of my re-reads of The Black Stranger, which is one of my favorite Conan yarns, I began to notice some things that reminded me of Radcliffe's Udolpho and of some lesser known Gothics such as Catherine Smith's Barozzi; Or the Venetian Sorceress.
Anyway back to the list.

* a castle, ruined or intact, haunted or not.

Yes, the events take place in a large fortress and it's surroundings. Not a ruin, but a rambling structure, described in the story as a manor with a great hall, stairs, corridors, etc. (Though how the heck the owners built the thing after apparently being shipwrecked I don't know.)

* ruined buildings which are sinister or which arouse a pleasing melancholy.


* dungeons, underground passages, crypts, and catacombs which, in modern houses, become spooky basements or attics.


* labyrinths, dark corridors, and winding stairs.

Yes. Conan finds himself in a huge cave with some sinister properties and the hallways of the manor are dark in a scene I'm going to describe in the next part of the list.

* shadows, a beam of moonlight in the blackness, a flickering candle, or the only source of light failing (a candle blown out or an electric failure),

Yes, there's a scene where the Lady Belesa and her ward, Tina, hear someone or something moving about in the hall and when they go to check on it they find all the usually lit candles out and the only light coming from the floor below.

* extreme landscapes, like rugged mountains, thick forests, or icy wastes, and extreme weather.

Yep, plenty of that. The fortress stands on the edge of a wilderness on a rocky coast and there are a couple of violent storms during the story, one possibly of supernatural origin.

* omens and ancestral curses.

Oh yeah. Count Valenso says of the titular Black Stranger. "Accursed indeed. A shadow of mine own red-stained past risen up to hound me to hell."

* magic, supernatural manifestations, or the suggestion of the supernatural.

Yep, the Black Stranger is a demon of some sort. He's got horns and everything. Also the child Tina seems to have some 'second sight' abilities.

* a passion-driven, willful villain-hero or villain.

That would be the aforementioned Count Valenso, who uprooted his entire household to escape the curse that haunts him. He seems an okay guy at first but by the end of the story he's whipping children and he's willing to marry his poor niece off to a bloodthirsty pirate to save his own skin. Udolpho's Count Montoni would love him.

* a curious heroine with a tendency to faint and a need to be rescued–frequently,

The very curious Lady Belesa faints in horror at the end of chapter three and almost again when she sees the Black Stranger, and of course Conan rescues her a couple of times.

* a hero whose true identity is revealed by the end of the novel.

Oddly enough, Conan himself, who isn't named until way into the story.

* horrifying (or terrifying) events or the threat of such happenings.

Yes. Lots. Blood and gore and supernatural menace abound.

I think what caught my attention Gothic-wise initially was the character of Belesa. Like many Gothic heroines before and since, she's at the mercy of the hero-villain, her uncle the Count. She's also the primary viewpoint character for the first part of the story, following a brief vignette with an unnamed Conan. And in many ways, it's her story. Conan's bloody battles with Picts and pirates are almost a separate thread. Tina's fey qualities add a little more of the Gothic touch, as does the classic Gothic device of the sins of the past catching up with the hero-villain. REH was once again experimenting and refusing to stick to the formula that the uninformed often claim he worked by.
Now does all this change my mind about REH reading the Gothics? Nah. He read enough horror by Lovecraft, Machen, and such that he probably picked up things second hand from the influences of those writers. Still, there's a lot of Gothic to The Black Stranger.

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Returning Again For the First Time!

Be sure and click on the pic that accompanies this post because the art by Tomas Giorello is absolutely beautiful. It is currently my desktop theme. They can print the book in black and white from the pencils as far as I'm concerned. This is from a preview for the new Dark Horse Comics adaptation of the Phoenix on the Sword, the very first of Robert E. Howard's Conan stories, scripted by Timothy Truman with art by the aforementioned Mr. Giorello, the creative team behind the excellent adaptation of The Scarlet Citadel. Should be a lot of fun. I was a little put off by this blurb though:

"Dark Horse continues to roll on with Conan's adventures in January with the
return of King Conan. This time around, Thoth-Amon returns to plague Conan once

Since this is the very first Conan story and the first appearance of the wizard Thoth-Amon (who isn't actually after Conan in REH's story) how exactly is old Thoth 'returning' to plague Conan 'again'?

Tales of the Hook

We all heard them when were younger. The story of the man with a hook for a hand who killed kids on lovers lane or murdered a girl in her bedroom while her friend was sleeping, leaving a bloody message on the wall saying 'Aren't you glad you didn't turn on the lights.'
Hook Man, the 7th episode of season one of the TV series Supernatural, dramatizes these legends and manages to hit all the right notes. Cliff and Jim had been recommending this series to me for a while, so when I spotted a used box set of season one for a song at Movie Stop I decided to pick it up. Now that Halloween is approaching, I decided it was time to start watching the show. It took me a few episodes to get into the adventures of brothers Sam and Dean, the sons of a man who hunts supernatural menaces after his wife is killed by an evil entity. When the series begins, dad has gone missing and it falls to the boys to go looking for him, using his commonplace book as a clue. Along the way they take part in the family business, destroying ghosts, monsters, and all manner of evil creatures in towns all over America. Think of it as Route 66 with monsters.
The Hook Man episode was the one that finally made me decide I like the show a lot. It was very tightly written with some nice character bits for Sam and a good twist at the end. It also reminded me of stories that some of my teachers used to tell when I was in school. Probably get sued if they told such stories today. Anyway I'll be watching more episodes as the Halloween season continues.

Friday, October 07, 2011

The Coming (and Going) of Elric!

One of my favorite stories from the semi-legendary Roy Thomas/Barry Smith run on Marvel Comics' Conan the Barbarian was the two part Conan/Elric team-up which appeared in issues #14-#15. Oddly enough though, while I owned several reprints of the story and a copy of issue #15, I had never picked up issue #14. Thanks to Ebay I have now corrected that little oversight. I received issue #14 today and now I may tell you a great secret. A while back I had written a big review of these two issues for Singular Points. So big, in fact that it was going to have to be several parts as I had researched the connections between the story and the books that Elric creator Michael Moorcock was writing at the time and had found some interesting contradictions between 'book' Elric and 'comicbook' Elric. And I had done some detective work on the origins of the wizard Kulan-Gath, one of the baddies in the comic, who went on to fight Spiderman, the X-men, and oddly enough, Red Sonja, including never before revealed info from Moorcock himself. And...I lost it. Once again I had failed to make proper backup files and when my PC died near the first of 2011, it took the article with it. I was so annoyed that I wasn't in any mood to rewrite the article. Now however, I think I may be ready to break out my notes and have at it again. So that was why I decided it was high time I owned my own copy of issue #14. This time I will write my review from the actual comics.

Halloween Stuff

If you were reading this blog last October, you may recall that I spent practically the entire month celebrating Halloween. I had planned to do the same this year, but then I started work on this novel with Jim, so instead of reading a bunch of scary stories I am now writing a scary book, but I can't really blog much about that. However I am managing to work in some scary reading and some scary movies, and I'll blog about that soon. Just not likely to hit the level of Halloween posts I did last year.

Monday, October 03, 2011

Strange Worlds

Jeff Doten just emailed me to let me know that Strange Worlds, the sword and planet anthology that contains my short story Slavers of Trakor is available. Each short story comes with a full color 'cover' and three black and white illustrations by Jeff. The book has a full color comic book story as well. Check it out here:

Sunday, October 02, 2011

The Wedding of River Song

Okay, I have to admit they got me. I figured out who River Song was and I didn't take the obvious red herring of the 'ganger' Doctor being the way out of the Doctor's apparent death. But I didn't figure out how the Doctor was actually going to cheat Death until about halfway through the final episode, so yeah, I caught it before they did it, but not in advance. All and all, a very satisfactory way to end the season. Most of the loose ends tied up nicely. I see from the advance information for this year's Doctor Who Christmas episode that the actors who portray Amy and Rory aren't mentioned, so presumably next season will bring a new companion or companions. I've enjoyed Amy and Rory and River, but I could do without all three for a season.


I'd been wanting to see the movie Ironclad since seeing some footage from it while the film was still in production. Finally got around to watching it yesterday and it didn't disappoint. This is a brutal, bloody, historical film chocked full of action. Based loosely on the real life 1215 siege of Rochester Castle, Ironclad features James Purefoy (Rome, Solomon Kane) as a disgraced Knight Templar, who thought his fighting days were over, but who suddenly finds himself stuck in a hopeless battle against impossible odds.
In a lot of ways, the movie reminded me of a David Gemmell novel. Purefoy's character, Thomas Marshal, arrives at the castle with a ragtag group of mercenaries. There's the big strong guy, the slightly crazy guy, the rogue, and the archer of amazing skill. These are characters right out of Legend of Quest for Lost Heroes or Winter Warriors.
King John (Richard's brother) has just reneged on the Magna Carta and he shows up at Rochester Castle with a thousand mercenaries and Marshal and his crew must hold the castle until the rebels can bring more troops. Luckily for Marshal, the castle is extremely well designed and can be held by a small force. (In real life it was hunger that beat the besieged, not force.)
If you like siege films, you'll probably enjoy this one. There are catapults and sappers and archers and boiling oil. All the stuff one expects in this sort of story. Purefoy is good as the tormented hero and Paul Giamatti chews the scenery as King John. Derek Jacobi is on board to lend the film a little class. Other cast members include Jamie Foreman, who played the misguided father in the Doctor Who episode The Idiot's Lantern, and Jason Flemyng, who's currently a regular on Primeval. Oh, and Vladimir Kulich playing a Viking looking very much like the Viking he played in The 13th Warrior. Guy must have Viking on his resume.
The film is shot in an almost documentary style, lending a realism to it that a lot of historical films lack. It is very gory, so definitely not one for the kids. I wouldn't call Ironclad a great film but I enjoyed it quite a bit. I understand that it had a fairly limited budget, so it's pretty impressive, especially in the face of something like, oh I don't know...CONAN. In fact, as I watched this film I couldn't help but think that director Jonathan English could have done a decent Conan film with the same budget as Ironclad and a good script. Oh well.