Monday, July 29, 2013

Weekend Report

   Overall this was a pretty quiet weekend, which was what I wanted after spending the previous weekend out of town. I mostly read and watched DVDs. I reviewed the Sexton Blake book Sorcerers of Set already, however a comment from Chap O'Keefe (Keith Chapman) set me to looking at another book in the series and some connections to yet another British series that I'll talk more about later. I also read Rio Youers amazing book Westlake Soul which I'll review later. It's too good to just get a mention here.
   DVD wise, I watched the original pilot movie for the TV series The Six Million Dollar Man. The pilot, based on Martin Caidin's science fiction novel Cyborg, was a lot darker than the TV show which would eventually emerge from it. The protagonist, a pilot who has both legs, one arm and one eye replaced with bionic machinery spends a lot more time brooding over his perceived loss of humanity. The movie seems more like something Rod Serling might have written. The DVD set contains the other TV movies that preceded the series and the entire first season of the show. Should be fun.
   Michael J. Basset's Solomon Kane film (2009) FINALLY got a US blu-ray release and I rewatched it for the first time since my original viewing of a UK DVD on my computer. Still one of the best sword & sorcery movies made, even if it's not really Robert E. Howard's version of Kane. It has sword fights, monsters, and dark sorcery. Stylishly directed with a great cast. I enjoyed seeing it on the bigger screen in higher quality. Lots of extras of the blu-ray as well.
   Somewhere in there I read some comic books and did some research for a story and even got a little writing done. As weekend go, I've had worse.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Sexton Blake and the Sorcerers of Set

 I bought this book for the title. Seriously. Sorcerers of Set just appealed to me as a Sexton Blake title, probably because of the very tenuous connection to Robert E. Howard's Conan. Set, the snake god, is worshiped by the Stygians, the proto-Egyptians of the Hyborian Age.
   The Set in this book is, of course, an actual Egyptian mythological god who has nothing to do with snakes. In fact, though Set has the typical animal head of Egyptian gods, no one is exactly sure what animal the head is supposed to be. Looks like an ant-eater to me.
   So yeah, I bought the book for the title, even though I'd heard that the 1960s era Sexton Blake books were pretty bland. Being me, though, I had to read it. Turned out to be a lot of fun but...weird.
   See, Sexton Blake was originally a Sherlock Holmes style detective. Though, as I've said before, he also had a lot of pulpish action to his adventures, he still spent a lot of time in his dressing gown, making deductions based on his vast knowledge of crime and his attention to details that everyone else either missed or misinterpreted.
   This book picks him up, more or less intact, and drops him into a seamy murder investigation in the swinging sixties. So it's almost like someone inserted the Victorian Sherlock Holmes into a gritty crime story. Blake's assistant tinker, now known by his real name Edward Carter, does most of the legwork and he's not above using his blond boyish good looks to get information from the ladies as he dashes about a London of mod shops and hip nightclubs. Gear, baby. Fab.
   Meanwhile Blake still performs chemical experiments in his consulting room and his landlady, Mrs. Bardell still murders the English language and Pedro the bloodhound still sleeps in the corner. Makes for a slightly schizophrenic reading experience. The plot is pretty good however, and there's a lot of fun, 1960s references in the dialog. Might have to read a few more of the swinging sixties Blakes.

Monday, July 22, 2013

The Tent

   Want to read something really scary? Something with a couple of scenes that will give you that feeling of your blood running cold? Go and download THE TENT by Kealan Patrick Burke.
   I just met Kealan this weekend at Necon and I asked him what of his work I should start with. Since we had been discussing my interests in terms of horror he said that he thought THE TENT would appeal to me. He was dead on.
   What begins as a well written character study of a man who is in the last throes of screwing up his life, slowly turns serious as the man, his wife, and young son are lost in the woods while camping. Kealan builds the tension using small details. You can feel the man's discomfort, both physical and emotional, as events spiral downward. Then, just as you're starting to think that this story is all about internal conflict, the man stumbles across something in the woods. That's all I'll say as the real terror and horror begin right there, and it turns ugly fast. And just when you think things might be winding down, it gets worse.
   Now here's the other thing. Kealan can write and I don't mean just tell a story well. His prose is rich and darkly lyrical, and if that sounds odd when talking about a gruesome horror story, you'll just have to trust me or better yet, read it yourself. He's also got a very original imagination. Just when I thought I knew where he was going, he took a turn in an unexpected direction and we know how I love to be surprised.
   Anyway, I'm going to go find some more of his stuff to read. I'm urging all my horror fan buddies to give Kealan Patrick Burke's THE TENT a try. In some ways it reminded me of Stephen King's early work, in content if not in style. You know, back when King was turning out those nasty little short stories that had teeth like Gray Matter, The Boogie Man, and The Raft. Good stuff.

The Shadow Over Bristol (AKA NECON)

   Just back from my first ever trip to New England. I spent three days in Rhode Island, mostly in Bristol, but also in Shadow Haunted Providence. I was there for Necon, the North Eastern Writers Conference, an annual get together for writers and readers of Horror, Dark Suspense, and other forms of speculative fiction. My pal and frequent collaborator James A. Moore had been telling me for the last couple of years I should attend, and this year, since I am now officially an author I figured it was time to go.
   Necon is hard to describe. Somewhere between a writer's workshop, a convention, and a family reunion. And believe me the attendees are a family. You can tell these folks enjoy being together. Some of them have been coming to the conference for over two decades, and for some of the authors, this is the only con they attend.
   I should mention here that that the Necon crew certainly made me feel like part of this extended family. They were very welcoming. I think that was partly because I was a friend of one of their members, Jim Moore, who seems to be universally beloved there.
   It would take forever to tell about all the fun I had so I'll just hit some highlights. I got to meet one of my favorite writers, F. Paul Wilson, who was a great guy. At one point I was sitting across from him at a sing along in the con hotel's inner courtyard and I thought, "Jeez, I'm singing along with F. Paul Wilson."
   Also got to meet, and be on a panel with, C.J. Henderson, a writer I've been reading for years. Very witty and intelligent fellow. He had a big selection of his books available in the dealer's room, and I picked up a couple of his collections.
   I spent a lot of time talking to writer Kealan Patrick Burke. Very smart and funny guy who tells some great stories. I'll be reading his novella "The Tent" tonight. Kealan was accompanied by his girlfriend, the lovely Adrienne Wallace, who is now on my Zombie Apocalypse Survival Team because of her mad foraging skills.
   Got to sit across the dinner table from Christopher Golden, author of Baltimore and too many other books, comics, games, etc to mention. Had a nice time talking about old movies with he and Holly Hautala.
   I had some amazing food at a local Bristol restaurant, The Lobster Pot. I had the lobster salad roll and some of the best coleslaw I've ever tasted, all while watching the gulls out in the bay. Really knew I was in New England there.
   On Saturday, Jim and I braved the 105 degree heat index heat to go into Providence to walk around in the neighborhood where H.P. Lovecraft lived. Stood outside the gates of Miskatonic (Brown) University. Visited the Providence Library where HPL used to get books. Saw many of the Colonial Era buildings that Lovecraft would have seen on his night time walks. Very cool experience. Special thanks to Dan Foley, who drove us into town.
   I got to meet Bob 'Papa Necon' Booth, a man I once thought fictional since he appears as a character in the Joseph Payne Brennan novel "Act of Providence". Bob has been valiantly battling cancer and once you've met the guy you'll figure cancer is the one who's outclassed in that fight. Bob gave me the lowdown about Act of Providence, which was darn fascinating.
   And I met a lot of great folks, including Tony Tremblay, Kurt Criscione, Bracken MacLeod, Rio Youers, Mary SanGiovanni, Brian Keene, David Dodd, the aforementioned Dan Foley and his lovely and talented granddaughter Cat, Jeff Strand, Anya Martin, Lynne Hansen, and some other folks I've doubtlessly forgotten.
   Anyway, it was a great trip. Hit a road bump on the way home when my flight out of providence was cancelled at the last moment, but Delta put me in a cab that took me to Boston and gave me a first class seat home. Didn't make it in until close to midnight, but at least I got to fly in style.
   Glad to be home, but already missing some of the new friends I made.

Lovecraft Country

Sorry the blog has been quiet the last few days, I was out of town in Bristol Rhode Island at the North Eastern Writers Conference (Necon). I'll be blogging about that in the very new future.  I did get into providence while I was there and walked the streets where Lovecraft once walked, which was pretty darn cool. More about that later as well. Today I'm recovering.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Old Gods Waken

This was the first of the novels about Manly Wade Wellman's most popular character, John the Balladeer and it came out in 1979. I could kick myself sometimes because in 1979 I was just a comic book geek with no knowledge of folks like Wellman and Karl Edward Wagner. Heck I probably walked right past KEW since I know now that he attended some of the same conventions I did. Such is life.
   Anyway, in this one John runs into a weird mix of Druidism and Indian (Native American) mysticism, facing off against not only two druids, but against such dangerous Indian spirits as the dreaded Ravenmockers. The druids, a couple of nasty brothers named Voth, are trying to awaken ancient spirits that predate even the Indians in the mountains. Thus the book's title, as the Voths hope to raise old, forgotten, but angry gods and use their power for no good.
   Like The Voice of the Mountain, which I reviewed a few weeks back, this book suffers mostly from being too long for its subject matter. It reads like a drawn out John the Balladeer short story, and while that's not a bad thing, it does make the pacing seem slow. Wellman does his usual amazing job of bringing the mountains of the Carolinas alive, and you can feel his love for the region, its people, and it's music and folklore.
   The descriptions of the meals John shares with the country folk are particularly vivid, making me long for the days of lunches at my grandmother's house. The ham and biscuits, corn dodgers, greens, and such. You don't have to have grown up in the rural South to enjoy the simple pleasures of a John the Balladeer story, but I think it adds something to my own love of these stories. I grew up in backwoods Georgia, and the world John travels through is much like what I remember from my childhood.
   One interesting bit from The Old Gods Waken is the inclusion of the Cherokee medicine man Reuben Manco. Manco also appears in several of Wellman's John Thunstone stories and one of the novels. Though Wellman never got around to having the two Johns onstage together, they did know one another and had mutual friends. I like that.
   Anyway, this is another good John the Balladeer book, an excellent read for a lazy afternoon. Yeah it could move a bit faster but fast pace isn't everything. Sometimes it's better to just sit back and enjoy the ride.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

The Art of Reed Crandall

   Reed Crandall is another one of those golden age (and silver age) comic book artists who has fallen into obscurity. The general public doesn't know from Reed Crandall. And even among those who are familiar with him, many remember him primarily as the artist on Quality Comics' Blackhawk. Blackhawk was great, but Crandall had a long run on another Quality hero, Captain Triumph.
   Blackhawk was a fairly realistic strip, featuring character with no super powers, but  Captain Triumph shows what Crandall could do on a more standard superhero comic. I've included some shots of the good Captain flying, bending steel in his bare hands and such. I can only imagine how amazing a Superman story by Crandall might have been.
   As an artist, one of the things that interests me about Crandall is that his human figures are realistically proportioned. Most comic book artists draw their characters taller than real life humans because it looks more impressive. Bigger than life and all that. Crandall drew figures who were more along the lines of real people. This may be because he used a lot of photographic reference.
   Still his figure work is fluid, his facial expressions excellent, and his ability to draw drapery (how cloth hangs on a figure) unsurpassed.
   In later years Crandall would do some beautiful pen and ink illustrations for the Canaveral Press editions of the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs.
   If you do a little Internet research you can find plenty of examples of the brilliant work of Reed Crandall. Well worth your time.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

An Interview With James A. Moore

"The people of Fellein have lived with legends for many centuries. To their far north, the Blasted Lands, a legacy of an ancient time of cataclysm, are vast, desolate and impassable, but that doesn’t stop the occasional expedition into their fringes in search of any trace of the ancients who once lived there… and oft-rumoured riches.

Captain Merros Dulver is the first in many lifetimes to find a path beyond the great mountains known as the Seven Forges and encounter, at last, the half‐forgotten race who live there. And it would appear that they were expecting him.

As he returns home, bringing an entourage of the strangers with him, he starts to wonder whether his discovery has been such a good thing. For the gods of this lost race are the gods of war, and their memories of that far-off cataclysm have not faded."

   If James A. Moore isn't the hardest working man in fiction his name would be in the upper section of the list. He's always got several novels in the works and more ready to start and at the same time he's turning out short stories, novellas, columns, essays and such. He's a busy guy. His newest book, SEVEN FORGES, is the first volume in a fantasy series, which will be out in September.
   James took time out of his insanely busy schedule to chat about SEVEN FORGES. He didn't have much choice as I know where he lives. Pay attention towards the end of the interview and you'll see just how prolific the guy is. I don't know anything about this Rutledge guy he mentions.

SP:I think many readers know you primarily as an author of horror fiction. What made you decide to write in the heroic fantasy genre?


JAM: There was really no decision to make as far as I’m concerned. I wanted to write a story that happens to fall outside of the standard horror trappings. I’ve written a little fantasy in the past and I’ve done a few pieces that were science fiction as well. Ultimately, for me, the story is important. What genre the story falls in seems more a matter of marketing than anything else. I’ve had reviewers refer to my horror tales as urban fantasy and I was fine with that, too.  I just didn’t think Seven Forges was going to work as anything but a fantasy novel. There were things I wanted to examine that would have been harder to cover, for me, in any other genre.



   SP: Would you say that your experience writing horror gives you a different approach to heroic fantasy than other writers?


JAM: Well, that one’s a bit more problematic. Yes, because I very likely look at heroic fantasy with a different set of eyes than someone who has never written horror. When it came to the critters in the books and the first encounters with some of the characters, I wanted there to be more horror. I wanted the antagonists to seem larger than life and I definitely looked toward the works I’ve written in the horror field for some of that.


   SP: What writers were your biggest influences in terms of fantasy writing?


JAM: I grew up reading heroic fantasy in one form or another. Some of that was even in the form of novels and short stories. Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Roy Thomas, all comic creators, were extremely influential, but so were Robert E. Howard, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Anne McCaffery, Andre Norton, Fritz Leiber, Michael Moorcock, Lloyd Alexander, Karl Edward Wagner, Ursula K. LeGuin, Roger Zelazny, Gene Wolfe, Raymond E. Feist, as well as Frank Frazetta and Michael Whelan. Frazetta and Whelan might seem an odd addition to some people, but visually I don’t think anyone else caught my eye as much. And the covers those gentlemen illustrated definitely had an impact on what I bought to read. I also have to point to Tim Lebbon, whose Noreela series was really my first sampling of fantasy in well over a decade.


I’ve just recently started getting back into reading fantasy of any type after a very, very long time away and a few of the names that are at the top of the list for me these days are Joe Abercrombie, Glen Cook and David Gemmell.


   SP: In Seven Forges you do a lot of worldbuilding, showing the cultural differences between the different civilizations. Were you thinking of any real life historical cultures when creating your fictional ones?


JAM: Not consciously. Though when I discussed aspects of the plot I was surprised by the number of people who pointed to certain elements and compared them with historical cultures. The Spartans were heavily on my mind, apparently and so were the Vikings and the Aztecs, all for different reasons. Consciously? I’d point to the Japanese culture and the Chinese as well.


   SP: What's your favorite kind of pizza?


JAM: I am of a very simple mindset here. There is no such thing as bad pizza. From the odd, square cardboardy goodness of public school pizza to the very finest Chicago-Style or New York-Style pizza, there is no wrong. Well, almost no wrong. I still don’t much like Papa Johns. I just don’t like the sauce. It lacks anywhere near enough garlic for me.  That’s really a very complex question. I’m going to have to go with “everything, but maybe go light on the olives.” Oh, and anchovies are optional.


   SP: Do you have a favorite character or characters from Seven Forges?


JAM: I have a few characters that surprised me and that always makes the sort of favorites. I really, really like Wollis March, who is rather a sarcastic foot soldier. I am exceedingly fond of Swech, who is very good at combat but has an odd sort of innocence about her. I won’t call it naïveté, because she’s actually very astute, but I will admit to liking her innocence. And Drask Silver Hand, because for me he’s a perfect gauge as to how others should act in a scene.


   SP: How's work on the second volume of the Seven Forges series going?


JAM: It hasn’t really started yet, not in the purest sense. I know how it’s going to happen and I know what will occur, but I haven’t written much by way or notes or anything. It’s still all stuck in my skull and wants to come out. I’ll be starting it very soon and likely doing a few short stories to put out as samples as well.


   SP: What else are you working on now?


JAM: Heh heh heh. Okay, First I’ve just finished a first draft of a top-secret science fiction/horror work that is licensed. Mine is the second of three books that are a very, very loose series. How loose? You don’t need to read any of the others in the series to read the book, but all three are connected on multiple levels. Christopher Golden and Tim Lebbon are the other authors. I’m working on a multipart novella starring Jonathan Crowley. I’m working on a Jonathan Crowley novel called Boomtown, set in the Wild West, but of course with monsters. I’m planning a few Westerns with Crowley, actually, because they’re just plain fun to write. I’m working on a straight crime novel with a gentleman named Charles R. Rutledge. You might know his works. I am working on the sequel to Seven Forges, tentatively called The Chosen. It’s mostly done in my head and I’ll be hitting the keyboards very, very soon. I’ve got plans to finish a couple of other projects within the next four months, and I’ll be working with Charles R. Rutledge on a project that should prove interesting and will have remarkably little to do with anything I’ve done before.
SP: Thanks for the interview, James.
JAM: Thanks for having me onboard!


Thursday, July 11, 2013

Letters From Lovecraft

 Sometimes you just get lucky. Way back, many years ago, oh best beloved, when I was first getting into the work of H.P. Lovecraft, my friend Cliff loaned me volumes one through five of the Arkham House Selected Letters of H.P. Lovecraft. I enjoyed reading them so much that I wanted to get my own copies of the books.
   Now at that time, Arkham House was still active as a publisher, but they didn't seem terribly interested in selling books. I got their phone number somehow and when I called I got an answering machine. A deep voice intoned, "You have reached Arkham House Publishing. If you would like to receive a catalog of books leave a message with your mailing address."
   That's it. No menu. No way to reach a human being. If you want a catalog we'll send you one. Now go away.
   So I left a message and a couple of weeks later, I received a catalog. There wasn't a ton of stuff in it and they only stocked volumes three, four, and five of Lovecraft's letters. Still I ordered them. That left me short two volumes, and in those pre-Amazon, pre-Internet days my only chance at getting those other two volumes was to find them at a bookstore or convention. No luck there.
   Jump forward a few years and now I'm seeing copies of the two books on Ebay, Amazon, ABEbooks, and what have you. Problem is no one has a decent copy of volume one for under a hundred bucks and a good copy usually runs upwards of two hundred. I wasn't really willing to pay that much so I bided my time and checked for the book now and again. Last week someone posted a first edition copy of volume one on Ebay for 99 cents. It wasn't a Buy It Now listing, so I figured it would soon bid up into the same range as the other copies.
   So I watched it for the four days it was listed and only one person bid, so it was holding a 99 cents. On the final day I put in a bid, figuring that someone would outbid me at the last instant, but no one else ever bid. The first person had apparently bid six bucks or so, so the final sale price dollars and nineteen cents.
   The book arrived and it's a very good copy. Tight spine. White pages. The only problem with it was a tear in the dust jacket and the seller had clearly identified that. I'm okay with a tear in the dust jacket at that price.
   Anyway, now I just need a copy of volume two. That one goes for less than volume one, but still runs from $60 to $100, so I think I'll keep watching. Doubt I'll find another deal like volume one, but you never know.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Signed, Signed, Everywhere Signed

   James A. Moore brought the signature sheets for Congregations of the Dead to dinner with the Dr. No's gang tonight and we signed all 300 of them. That much closer to a finished book.

Sunday, July 07, 2013

Preach On, Stephen

Swiped this from my friend Jeri. A good lesson to remember.

Friday, July 05, 2013

Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters

   You know the story. Two kids left in the woods by their parents find a house made of candy which is unfortunately inhabited by a witch who likes to devour children. The kids manage to roast the witch in her own oven and escape. That story is intact as the very beginning of Hansel and Gretel: Witch hunters. Then it tells you what happened next. Apparently Hans and Gret got a taste for doing away with witches and they make a career of it.
   The movie picks up many years later when the now adult pair are called to a village that's being plagued by missing children and strange goings on. Hansel and Gretel investigate and find that a which named Muriel is planning a ritual that will make it impossible to kill witches by fire, the one sure way of doing them in. She just needs the blood of a dozen or so innocent kids and one secret ingredient that I'll let you learn about yourselves.
   This is a fun fun movie, but definitely not to be taken seriously. H&G use a bunch of anachronistic steampunk weapons and they and the witches seem to have been inexplicably tutored in wushu style martial arts. But we don't care about that. It's too much fun to see the orphans throw down on the bad guys.
   Hansel is played by Jeremy Renner, who seems to be the action hero of the hour these days, what with roles in The Avengers, The Bourne Legacy, Mission Impossible, and such. Here he's a slightly goofy, shy young man who knows how to kill witches with the best of them but not how to talk to a pretty girl.
   Gemma Arterton manages to be cute, tough, sexy, vulnerable and funny all at the same time as Gretel. She's no stranger to action movies either, having appeared in Prince of Persia, Quantum of Solace, and Clash of the Titans, but here she has to really amp things up as she's involved in most of the major fight scenes.
   And them there's Muriel, played with scenery chewing relish by Famke Jansen. She's hot when she's human and repulsive when she's a witch. And she's a very good villain. The movie wouldn't have worked nearly as well without her.
   Hansel and Gretel is a fast paced, funny, creepy thrill ride of a film. It is a bit on the gory side, but it's comic book gore and not at all realistic. Still, probably not one for the kids. I'll probably give this one a re-watch at Halloween.

Thursday, July 04, 2013

Happy Fourth of July!

Happy Fourth of July from Jack Kirby, Captain America, and me.

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Four Color Conan: Freely Adapted

   I mentioned at the end of my last Four Color Conan post that the big Cimmerian was about to run into Kulan Gath, the Wizard introduced in the nigh legendary Conan/Elric team-up back in Conan the Barbarian issues #14 and #15, about which I'll have a LOT more to say soon.
   Unfortunately, Kulan Gath's return was the beginning of a long and I thought, drawn out adventure called The Second Coming of Shuma Gorath, which ran from issue #252 to issue #260. The storyline is enjoyably Lovecraftian, with Kulan Gath trying to raise the Elder God like Shuma Gorath to take his power for Gath's own, but anybody who's ever read Lovecraft knows this is a bad idea. You call up some tentacled horror from the outer dark and you're probably going to end up as a snack. It's not a bad storyline and there are many appearances by characters from Conan's past, but it does run on.
   Once Shuma Gorath has been dealt with, Roy Thomas settles down to doing some adaptations, just as he did in the old days, but by this point there aren't many Robert E. Howard stories left to adapt. Over issues #261, #262, and #263, he "freely" adapts Guns of Khartum, Scarlet Tears, (which I think is a Lin Carter rewrite of a REH yarn) and The Voice of El-Lil.
   Whenever Thomas had to make a lot of changes to a story he called it "Freely" adapted. Since Guns and Voice take place in what for Howard would have been contemporary times, they were certainly freely adapted. Still, they make for some pretty solid stories.
   For issues #264 and #265, Thomas goes even farther afield, adapting Clifford Ball's sword and sorcery story The Thief of Forthe, which works pretty well as a Conan story, since it was written for Weird Tales after REH's death and aimed at the market Howard had created and left open.
   Issues #266 through #269 were devoted to an adaptation of the TOR Conan novel Conan the Renegade by Leonard Carpenter. I like a couple of Carpenter's Conan books, but I hadn't read this one, so I can't say how good the adaptation is. It's a serviceable S&S tale.
   And that brings us to the end of the adaptations. Issue #270 reintroduces an old foe of Conan's from Savage Sword, the Eater of Souls, for a three issue storyline. I never really warmed to that character, but someone must have because he ended up as an action figure in a combined set with Conan. Go figure.
   That takes us to issue #273, which I have yet to read. Only three issues now until the end of the Marvel Conan the Barbarian comic book. I plan to read those over long weekend, so I'll let you know how things turn out.

The Weekend

Tomorrow is the Fourth of July and I have scheduled the fifth off, as I'm sure many of you have. So we know what this means. FOUR DAY WEEKEND!

Monday, July 01, 2013

They Had Hobbits in the Crusades, Right?

Kharrn and Briefer, back from the Crusades...