Sunday, March 31, 2013

Doctor Who: The Bells of St. John

 Well this is a bit more like it. Last September, after the first half of season 7 of the revived Doctor Who, I mentioned that I hadn't been too thrilled with the first set of episodes. Part of that was growing tired of Amy and Rory, and part of it was producer/head writer Steven Moffat's tendency to ignore logic for the sake of a big image.
   In the Bells of St. John, the first episode of the second half of the season, the Ponds are gone, though Amy is referenced on a book cover, and the new companion Clara, played by the extremely cute Jenna-Louise Coleman, is a breath of fresh air, her rapid fire delivery of lines almost managing to keep up with Matt Smith's Doctor. I'm glad to see the romantic angle return, as I didn't think Amy worked as well as a married woman, though I did like Rory a lot initially.
   The plot for the first episode is fairly lightweight, but serviceable, and I didn't see any major plot holes. So maybe things will settle down and be a bit more my speed. The Doctor was very heroic in this one, much as he was in his very first episode, the Eleventh Hour. Glad to see him back in good form. So, overall a thumbs up to the first episode of the second half of season seven. Taken with the news that David Tennant will be back, this has been a pretty good weekend for Doctor Who.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

The Two Doctors: 2013

Well it isn't The Doctor and Conan but it is the Doctor and the Doctor. The BBC has revealed that David Tennant will take part in the Doctor Who 50th anniversary special, bringing the 10th Doctor and the 11th together for the first time. Won't be out until November, but hey, it's a crossover and we know I love crossovers.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

The House That HPL Built

 I've mentioned before how much I like books from Arkham House, the venerable publishing company established in 1939 by August Derleth and Donald Wandrei to preserve the work of writer H.P. Lovecraft in hardback. Over the years I have accumulated quite a few Arkham house volumes, and this week I got two more, one through my own efforts and one through the generosity of a friend.
   Goes like this. When I was reading S.T. Joshi's Lovecraft biography I AM PROVIDENCE, I noted a couple of things I wanted to look into. One was an earlier bio HOWARD PHILLIPS LOVECRAFT: DREAMER ON THE NIGHTSIDE by Lovecraft's friend Frank Belknap Long. I'd been aware of the book for some time but never picked up a copy, so I went online and found one in nice condition and got it on the way.
   The other thing I noticed in Joshi's book was that there was one of Lovecraft's favorite writers who I had never read, M.P. Shiel. Lovecraft had been particularly taken with Shiel's story, THE HOUSE OF SOUNDS, so I wanted to track that down. Enter coincidence, stage left.
   My pal Cliff had just picked up a collection of old SF, Fantasy and Horror which included several Arkham House volumes. One of these books was the 1975 Shiel collection XELUCHA. As it turned out, Cliff already owned that one, so he passed the 'dupe' along to me. Cliff's good that way. Like me, he likes to see books in the hands of people who will enjoy them. To make the coincidence even more cool, Cliff brought me the book the same day that the FBL bio came in, so I went home with two 'new' Arkham House books.
   I haven't had a chance to dip into either, but I have a long weekend coming up, so I should have time to do some reading. I'll let you know what I think.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Writing Report

   Hit 11K words today on the latest collaboration between me and James A. Moore. This isn't the SF book we were working on that I mentioned a while back, but something completely different. We were having fun with the other idea, but we both decided we were in the mood for something grittier so we switched. And bloody freaking gritty this new book is. Just wrote the bloodiest gun battle I've done in a while.
   I'm also working on a short novel on my own that several of you who stop by regularly will probably find of interest. More on that later. I'm waiting for some research material to arrive in the mail.
   And I'm offering moral support by writing along with my friend, Laura Kinsale, who is determined to finish her latest novel by July. As always, when I watch her work, I am amazed at her research and her attention to detail. There's a reason she's in a class of her own in the Historical romance field. The lady can write.

Karl Edward Wagner's Kane Returns in New Hardbacks

   Got a notice from Centipede Press that the publisher has acquired the rights to reprint the adventures of Karl Edward Wagner's hero-villain (Karl hated the term anti-hero) the immortal Kane. I know a lot of folks have been waiting for this as the Nightshade Press hardback books have been out of print for some time and have become very expensive in the collectors market. Even the old Warner paperbacks demand high prices.
   The plan is for the books to be illustrated, and Centipede is looking at possible artists right now.
   There would be four hardbacks, one for each novel, Darkness Weaves, Bloodstone, and Dark Crusade, and a volume collecting all the short stories. I'm hoping the size and format will be in line with the recent Centipede KEW horror collections so I can line it all up together on the shelf. No word on pricing, but hopefully the books will be in line with the other Wagner volumes as well. An affordable set of Kane books for new readers and old fans.
   KEW's estate has reported that the Kane books will be available as Ebooks this year as well. A Good year for Kane fans.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Conan Meets Doctor Who

   The team-up you never thought you would see. My favorite Doctor meets my favorite barbarian. Yes it's the 10th Doctor and Conan the barbarian, drawn by the awesome Doctor Who artist and writer Dan McDaid. I commissioned this drawing from Dan and here it is. Man is that something. Look, it even has the TARDIS! I am a happy camper.
   Dan ended up making more than one run at the drawing though. For the story behind that and the alternate version of the drawing go to Dan's blog:

Thanks, Dan. This turned out fantastic.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Waiting for the Hammer to Fall

   While I was eating my lunch I bumped over to Max Allan Collins' site and saw that he has a new Mike Hammer novel, written with Mickey Spillane of course, due out May 7. The book description says:

   "Hammer accompanies a conservative politician to Moscow on a fact-finding mission. Arrested and imprisoned by the KGB on a bogus charge; he quickly escapes, creating an international incident by getting into a fire fight with Russian agents.

On his stateside return, the government is none too happy with Hammer. Russia is insisting upon his return to stand charges, and various government agencies are following him. A question dogs our hero: why him? Why does Russia want him back, and why was he singled out to accompany the senator to Russia in the first place? And why does every beautiful woman he encounters seem to have a seductively hidden agenda?"

   Mike Hammer. Russian Agents. Not surprisingly, I am looking forward to this one.

Lovecraftian Postscript

   In an odd bit of coincidence, while scanning the bargain books at Barnes & Noble two Sundays ago, I spotted a hardback called H.P. Lovecraft: Nightmare Countries. It turned out to be a very much chopped down version of I Am Providence, the biography of Lovecraft that I was currently reading, but done as a small coffee table book with lots and lots of pictures. Since I am Providence only had a few small black & white pictures, this book made an excellent companion to the bigger biography. There are shots of the people and places and things discussed in I Am Providence. Want to see all the houses where Lovecraft lived? Got it. Lovecraft's marriage license? Check. Pictures of Lovecraft's influences like Dunsany, Machen, and so forth? Covered.
   And of course it was in the bargain bin so it was only $19.95. A steal.
   I will note that the biographical information is well chosen, so this is actually a pretty decent biography as well as a nice picture book. If you, or someone you know wants a crash course in Lovecraft's life, without wading through the massive tome that is I am Providence, this is the book to get.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Tarzan and the Elephant Men

Finally got around to the second novella in Tarzan the Magnificent. This one, Tarzan and the Elephant Men, picks up directly after Tarzan and the Magic Men and features some of the same characters as the first novella. It also acts as a sequel to an earlier Tarzan novel, Tarzan and the City of Gold.
   In City of Gold Tarzan visited the lost city of Cathne, where the wicked queen Nemone fell for him of course, and then tried to kill him when he spurned her advances. (Tarzan was always loyal to Jane.) The enemies of the Cathneans were the people of the city of Ivory, Athne, which was on the other side of the valley where Cathne lay. Tarzan never got to Athne in City of Gold but in Elephant Men he gets to visit the city and ends up in the usual trouble, captured by the Athneans and thrown in an arena to fight for his life. What was it with lost cities and arenas?
   The Athneans learn a valuable lesson though. Never throw a man into an arena to be killed by elephants when that man can talk to animals.
   In his book Edgar Rice Burroughs: Master of Adventure, Richard Lupoff scores Tarzan the Magnificent pretty low on the scale of Tarzan novels, mostly because he feels that it's derivative of too many other earlier Tarzan books. I can see what he means, but coming to it without having read a lot of Tarzan recently, I found the two novellas to be a lot of fun. Like most series, it's better not to read too many books back to back. They weren't published that way originally.
   The good thing about the novellas is they're only about 100 pages each, so they can be read at a sitting. A short, adventure filled visit with Tarzan of the Apes. Vando. (That's good in ape talk for those of you who don't speak mangani.)

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Ki-Gor versus Kaanga

This is one of the more interesting swipes I've seen in a while, because the cover of Jungle Comics was pretty obviously copied from an earlier issue of the Jungle Stories  Magazine. However both publications came from the same company, Fiction House, and the the two jungle lords, Ki-Gor and Kaanga are basically the same character. Kaanga was the comic book version of Ki-Gor but for some reason he was given a different name. Interesting to see that the cover composition was recycled. The artist flipped the image for some reason, but I've flipped it back so you can see how close the two pictures are.

I Am Providence Vol II

 I mentioned in my review of the first volume of S.T. Joshi's biography of H.P. Lovecraft that the book was as concerned with Lovecraft's writing as with his life, and that carries through into volume II as well. Joshi looks at the origins, compositions, publications and impact of the big stories. THE DUNWHICH HORROR. THE CALL OF CTHULHU. THE SHADOW OVER INNSMOUTH. The heavyweights of Lovecraft's fiction.
   We also hit a couple of areas where Joshi and I disagree. He doesn't care much for The Dunwich Horror, which is probably my favorite Lovecraft tale and he has a pretty low opinion of the writing of Robert E. Howard. But hey, I don't expect to agree with everything a writer says, even in a book I like as much as this one. And, in both cases, Joshi gives plenty of explanation of why he holds the opinions that he does. Can't ask for more than that.
   Any minor quibbles are far outweighed by the amazing amount of stuff I learned about Lovecraft that I didn't know. He did travel through Atlanta a couple of times but he didn't stop long. He visited Lookout Mountain in Chattanooga, just as I have, and he traveled to Knoxville, birthplace of Karl Edward Wagner. I knew that Lovecraft made several trips to Florida, but didn't know much about his wanderings in other parts of the south.
   But mainly I learned about the creation of some of my favorite stories. Wonderful stuff.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Mike Henry and Jock Mahoney Tarzan DVDs

   A while back I was talking about how some of my favorite Tarzan movies were the ones made in the 1960s with Jock Mahoney and Mike Henry, and also about how those were hard to come by in good quality. Well, no more. Warner Brothers has released the two Mahoney movies and the three Henry films in one set of five discs. So long bootlegs. Hello official DVDs. Get em directly from the WB store or from Amazon.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Tarzan and the Magic Men

   Never heard of Tarzan and the Magic Men? Me neither. Well not precisely, anyway. I read all 24 of Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan novels before I was twelve and over the years I've gone back and re-read some of them quite  few times. Others, I haven't looked at since I originally read them. One of those was Tarzan the Magnificent, which I had no memory of at all. I was digging around for something lighter to read between volumes One and Two of I Am Providence and I happened to think of Tarzan so I went into the collection and located the half dozen or so Tarzan books I hadn't read since I was a kid. Something that got past me when I was ten or so was that Tarzan the Magnificent wasn't actually a novel, but two separate novellas that had been published together in one volume.  
   Tarzan and the Magic Men originally appeared (apparently in a somewhat different form) in the pulp magazine Argosy in 1936. The second novella, Tarzan and the Elephant Men, was published in another pulp. Blue Book, in 1938. The first edition of Tarzan the Magnificent came out in 1939.
   Anyway, Tarzan and the Magic Men is that rare item, a Tarzan story with actual magic in it. Most of the witch-doctor types that Tarzan ran into were charlatans, using tricks and superstition to make their followers believe they actually had magic powers. However, in this book there are two men who use strange jewels to practice actual sorcery which includes mind control and other weird powers. Fortunately for everyone, Tarzan proves immune to their power, apparently because his thought processes are more like those of beast than man.
   This is a rousing good yarn with many familiar ERB elements, including lost cities, a romantic subplot, battles with dangerous beasts, and the usual credibility straining coincidences. I was reminded again that the man was a born storyteller. There's even some wry humor and Tarzan himself is in top form.
   Don't know if I'll get to the second novella today or not. Hope it's as much fun as this one was.

London Calling

    Been a while since I mentioned this, but London England is my favorite city in the world. I took four trips there in the late 90s and somehow I've allowed more than a decade to pass since I've been back. Just the way things fell out. For some reason I'm thinking of London this morning, perhaps because I had blackberry jam on my toast when I went out for breakfast and maybe because the weather this morning, cool and blustery, feels like the UK in March.
   Blackberry jam on toast was always what I went with when I had breakfast at the Grafton Edwardian Hotel (At the corner of Tottingham Court Road and Warren Street) along with eggs and beans and potato cakes, before rushing out to the Warren Street Underground Station to head out to all parts of London. The great thing about staying in a hotel adjacent to an Underground station was that you really couldn't get lost in the city. No matter how far you wandered, you could always just find a train station (they're everywhere) and get back to your hotel.
     Anyway, I'm feeling a little homesick for a place that isn't my home early on a Sunday. I suspect that were I wealthy, i would live part of the year in London. The only other place I get that feeling for is Santa Fe New Mexico, so I'd probably live there part time too. But for now, I'll just think of the bustling London streets and that particular quality of light of springtime in Regent's Park.

Saturday, March 09, 2013

Tales From the Pulp-O-Mizer

   The pulp-o-mizer is a ridiculously fun webpage where you can create your own pulp style magazine covers. For the most part the images there are for Science Fiction style pulps, but with a little imagination you can get something a bit more in the fantasy genre. I'm supplying a link but don't blame me if you waste a lot of time there.

Friday, March 08, 2013

Book Details

   James A. Moore and I just signed the contracts for Congregations of the Dead, so it's official now. It will be out from Arcane Wisdom and will be the same format as Blind Shadows, a limited edition hardback followed by a trade paperback and E-Book. Artist Alex McVey, who did the wonderfully creepy cover for Blind Shadows, is hard at work on a cover for the new book.

More About I Am Providence Vol l

   This just gets better and better. The last couple of chapters of S.T. Joshi's I Am Providence Volume I detail the writing of H.P. Lovecraft's early fiction. These are stories we're all familiar with like FROM BEYOND, NYLARTHOTEP, THE PICTURE IN THE HOUSE, and so forth, but here Joshi goes into fascinating detail about dates of composition, influences, and publication. He tells you what stories were based on Lovecraft's dreams and then gives you snippets from the letters relating those dreams showing you how much was taken directly from the dream. For instance, THE STATEMENT OF CHARLES DEXTER WARD comes close to being a dream written down verbatim, with only the names changed to protect the dreamer.
   And during all this Joshi is still giving the day to day details of Lovecraft's life. What friends came to visit. What trips he took. What he thought of books he was reading.  As you can tell, I'm really taken with this book. This is the most fun I've had reading a biography in decades.

Thursday, March 07, 2013

Trust Me. I'm the Draftsman.

Time Lord Meme

Your Job is now your Time Lord name.

Great. I'm the Draftsman.

The Last digit of your phone number is your current regeneration.

I'm on my second regeneration. Just getting started.

The last person you texted, twittered or emailed is your companion.

Laura Kinsale in now my companion.

Your most favorite word is now your catchphrase.

Inexplicable! (That's actually pretty good for a Time Lord.)

Congregations of the Dead at Famous Monsters

   Peter Schwotzer, over at Famous Monsters of Filmland, has put up a very nice review (from an advance copy) of Congregations of the Dead, the second novel from James A. Moore and me. Just as with Blind Shadows, I am absolutely thrilled to get a mention at Famous Monsters. What writer of horror wouldn't be? Check it out here:

The book won't be out until a little later this year. I'll keep you posted.

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

I Am Providence: Volume One

   I'm almost done with the first volume of S.T. Joshi's biography of H.P. Lovecraft, I Am Providence, and I've really been enjoying it. Though I've been reading about Lovecraft for years, I've already learned a lot of stuff I didn't know, especially  about Lovecraft's days in the amateur press.
   I think what I really like about this biography is that Joshi focuses on Lovecraft the WRITER, so no matter what period of Lovecraft's life he's talking about, you get insights about how it affected Lovecrafts's development as a writer. For instance, when discussing Lovecraft's childhood, you find out about his early writing efforts and when he came up with the mad Arab Abdul Alhazred and what books he read, and who his favorite authors were. Some biographies just give you unfocused anecdotes about the subject's childhood. Lovecraft's writing seems never far from Joshi's mind.
   Last night I read the chapter about Lovecraft's discovery of Lord Dunsany, which was a major turning point, as Dunsany would be a huge influence on Lovecraft's writing. Many people think of stories like The White Ship and The Doom that came to Sarnath as simple Dunsany imitations, but Joshi points out that while the outward trappings may resemble Dunsany's stories, the philosophy behind them is pure Lovecraft. Dunsany himself, who read Lovecraft's work after Lovecraft's death, noted that while Lovecraft was working in Dunsany's style, his stories were complete originals. This impressed Dunsany considerably.
   The next few chapters, which will take me to the end of this book and into volume 2, will detail Lovecraft's early days as a professional writer, his sales to Weird Tales and such. Looking forward to that.

Sunday, March 03, 2013

Late Season Snow

  I had thought I was going to get through the winter without seeing any snow this year, but here on the third day of March it's been snowing since I got up about three hours ago. It's tiny granular snow and it won't amount to anything but it's fun to watch it fall. I've been out to J. Christopher's for breakfast (ham and mushroom skillet, yum) and I've done my grocery shopping for the week. All I have left to do today is laundry and maybe straighten up the living room. Otherwise I plan to chill out and enjoy the falling white stuff. Hope your Sunday goes well.

Saturday, March 02, 2013

Savage Showcase:Gil Kane

   Ran across this Gil Kane pin-up of Conan and Red Sonja and had to share it. It originally appeared on an inside cover in Savage Sword of Conan. Kane is one of my top 10 favorite comic books artists of all time and I really need to write a post about his work on the Conan comics soon. In the meantime check out this nifty illo.

Friday, March 01, 2013

Clonans: Walking In Conan's Shadow

 Over at his blog Swords & Sorcery A Blog, my friend the Wasp was talking about Lin Carter's Conan clone Thongor. Now as long time blog readers know, I am a big fan of the often maligned Carter and I like Thongor, though I prefer Carter's short stories about the character to the novels. However I'll be the first to admit that as a character Thongor is pretty bland. And really so are most of the 'Clonans', characters designed basically to be Conan in everything but name. This would include John Jakes' Brak and Gardner Fox's Kothar.
   Now keep in mind, I'm saying this as someone who's written a couple of Clonans himself, and I'll be talking about that, but here's what I see as the biggest problem with Conan stand-ins. They generally don't work well because the fact that they are based on another character prevents their writers from developing much characterization for them. You can't take them too far from the character they're based on or they become something else, which isn't what they were intended to be. So they remain pale shadows of another writers creations. It's kind of a catch-22. If you make them too different they don't function in the role they were intended for but if you don't make them different at all you end up with a bland character.  So Thongor, Brak, and Kothar brawl and they drink, and they wench and they fight monsters and sorcerers but they are not driven by the dark and intense imagination of Robert E. Howard. They have the surface characteristics but not the guts, if you take my meaning.
   The sword and sorcery writers who followed Robert E. Howard that were the most successful did so, not by copying Howard's characters, but by writing stories set in a similar milieu but with original characters. C.L. Moore created the first female S&S hero, Jirel. Fritz Leiber came up with a pair of heroes, and though one of them was a barbarian, Fafhrd certainly isn't a Clonan. Later Michael Moorcock came up with his 'anti-conan' Elric, and Karl Edward Wagner created the immortal, amoral Kane, who was as physically imposing as Conan but nothing like him in terms of personality.
   A few years ago I decided I wanted to write some Conan stories, so I came up with a Clonan based on a character I'd invented for my home made comic books when I was twelve. Targo the Savage was my knock off of Roy Thomas's and John Buscema's Conan the Barbarian circa 1974, so I thought it would be fun to write some prose stories about the character. I started several stories but never finished any of them. The problem was, in trying to write my own version of Conan I felt hamstrung by trying to keep him close to the original model. He was very much a Thongor or Brak in the making, so I put him aside. (I do have an idea of how to use him again now, but more on that later.)
   My next Clonan was called Kharrn and him I was able to write, but only by setting him in situations that were nothing like Robert E. Howard's Conan stories. Kharrn travels in time and alternate realities and the 'fish out of water' nature of his adventures makes him different and fun to write. And truthfully he does have his own background and personality, though he remains very much a barbarian. The other thing about Kharrn is that I rarely enter his point of view, usually telling his stories from the viewpoint of another character because it helps him remain sort of an archetype. The reader doesn't get too close to him. (And if you're wondering, the character existed before my Lord of the Rings Online avatar of the same name was created.)
   Ultimately though, I think a writer is better off coming up with a character who may have echoes of a favorite hero but is different enough to serve as something other than a stand in. Conan the Cimmerian casts a big freaking shadow but it's best to stay in the sun.
   Of course tomorrow I'll come up with another idea for a Clonan...