Saturday, February 06, 2016

Witch House

I had been meaning to read Evangeline Walton's 1945 novel Witch House for many years, but somehow I'd never got around to it. Part of that was that I wanted a copy of the original Arkham House hardback and I could never find one in reasonable condition for a reasonable price. The book is rather collectible.
However that little snag was solved this year on my birthday when my good friend Cliff Biggers presented me with a nice copy of the book. I lost no time in sitting down to read it.
Witch House is a very interesting book, in some ways a combination of occult detective story and Gothic novel. The protagonist, Dr. Gaylord Carew, is a psychologist who also has some psychic abilities. He's contacted by a lawyer representing Mrs. Elizabeth Stone, whose daughter Betty-Ann is being haunted by some malignant, supernatural entity at Elizabeth's ancestral home, the titular Witch House in New England.
Carew arrives and immediately picks up on the hostilities between Elizabeth and her cousins, Joseph and Quincy, and Quincy's wife. In true Gothic form, the place simmers with old rivalries and hatreds from childhood.
It isn't long before Carew sees physical evidence of whatever is haunting Witch House. At first it seems that Witch House is just a 'bad place' like Shirley Jackson's Hill House, a sort of 'psychic battery' that has stored the trauma and resentment of the family for decades and particularly of Elizabeth's scheming, wicked late aunt, Sarai. But slowly Carew begins to realize that he's up against, not an undirected evil force, but an inimical intelligence.
Walton's prose style is ornate and well wrought. She weaves a dark atmosphere of mood and fear, ratcheting up the tension as the story progresses. It's a short book at about two hundred pages, but that's
plenty of room for Walton to draw the reader in and tell her dark ghost story.
I didn't immediately connect Evangeline Walton with her fantasy series The Mabinogian which I had read years ago. She had originally written the series based on the Welsh Mabinogi in the 30s, but the first volume hadn't sold well. Rediscovered by Lin Carter, that volume and its sequels were published as part of the nigh-legendary Ballantine Adult Fantasy series in the 1970s. Those books finally made Walton a success.
Witch House too had reportedly been written in the 30s, but was first published by Arkham House in 1945, and was the first volume of original horror they published. Since this is 'Women In Horror Month' this was an excellent time for me to finally read Evangeline Walton's classic Witch House. Really glad that I did.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

The Penultimate Savage Sword?

   I picked up SAVAGE SWORD OF CONAN reprint volume #21 last night. It reprints issues 213 to 222. The black and white magazine ran for 235 issues, so that means there are only 13 issues to go. For the most part, these 600 page ‘phone books’ have reprinted 10 issues each, which does make me wonder about the next issue. Will they cram all thirteen issues into volume 22? Do they plan to reprint the ten issues of that other Conan black and white magazine, CONAN THE SAVAGE bringing the total to 23 volumes? They did reprint the Conan material from Savage Sword’s predecessor, SAVAGE TALES, so why not CONAN THE SAVAGE? (A funny side note for me is that when I created a Conan knock off when I was twelve and drew a bunch of comic book adventures, he was TARGO THE SAVAGE. Take that Marvel. Beat you to it by twenty or so years.)
   Flipping through the volume last night, I had forgotten that a lot of the last two dozen or so issues of SAVAGE SWORD were taken up by adaptations of a couple of the TOR Conan pastiches. Those don’t interest me much. In between though, you get original stories by my favorite Conan pasticher, Roy Thomas. The art varies from excellent to pretty poor. I think Marvel knew the series was circling the drain.
  Another thing I’d forgotten was that since the Marvel color comic CONAN THE BARBARIAN was canceled before SAVAGE SWORD, Roy Thomas created a backup feature that went on with the Continuity of the color comic, so there was a CONAN THE BARBARIAN backup feature in SAVAGE SWORD OF CONAN. I find that kind of amusing.
   Anyway, I own a full set of the original SAVAGE SWORD magazines, so people have asked me why I want these reprint volumes. I worry about people like that.
PS. This volume includes the two-part crossover between Conan and Solomon Kane. Only Roy Thomas could have brought these two characters together in a story that actually fits the continuity established by Robert E. Howard in his stories. Go Roy!

Saturday, January 09, 2016

The Final Programme

Titan Books is doing the world a great service by reprinting the works of Michael Moorcock. Though his books have been reprinted countless times, most recently in the Del Rey editions of the saga of Elric, many of his lesser known books have been out of print for quite a while. But now you can read about Corum, Oswald, Bastable, The Eternal Champion, and soon Jerry Cornelius.
Jerry Cornelius is one of Moorcock's strangest creations, a young man who is part super hero, part spy, part messiah, and part any number of other things. In John Clute's 1977 introduction to The Cornelius Quarter, reprinted in Titan's The Final Programme, Clute gives a nice history of Jerry and his adventures, but he leaves out an important part. The Final Programme is quite intentionally written with the same story structure as the adventures of Moorcock's most famous creation, Elric of Melnibone, wielder of the soul-sucking sword, Stormbringer.
Long time fans of Moorcock can see the similarities. Jerry's brutish brother Frank and his ethereal sister Catherine stand in for Elric's cousins Yyrkoon and Cymoril. Frank is something of a drug cook in sixties London and he manages to put Catherine into a drug induced coma just as effective as the enchanted sleep spell Yyrkoon places over Cymoril.
The plot of The Final Programme is something about the building of a super computer by some villainous types, but it's mostly there as background. The characters and the incidents are what shine here. Jerry dashes about a world of sex, drugs, and rock & roll, having superspy adventures and trying to save his sister from his brother.
Speaking of sex, keep in mind that this book was written in 1965, and not published until 1968, but Moorcock was, as usual, ahead of the times. Jerry is bisexual, equally comfortable in bed with men, women, or both. There are no explicit sex scenes, but the prudish should be aware that this book is very much a product of the swinging sixties.
However, despite its sense of place and time, The Final Programme doesn't feel at all dated. Many think Michael Moorcock something of a hack because of the sheer amount of books that he has written. (His newest, The Whispering Swarm, came out last year.) But trust me, the man can write. Here his prose sparkles, at turns wry, playful, and deadly serious. When the needle gun goes in, you'll feel it.
Titan will follow The Final Programme with the other three volumes in the Cornelius Quartet, A Cure For Cancer. The English Assassin, and The Condition of Muzak. All are groundbreaking books. Works of science fiction and social commentary as only Moorcock could write them. Deal yourself in and take a walk on the wild side with Jerry Cornelius. But watch out for Frank. He's a right villain.

The Titan Edition of The Final Programme will be available on Feb 2. Titan was kind enough to send me a review copy.

Monday, January 04, 2016

A New Year

   And it’s 2016 which begins my 10th year of blogging. As I’ve mentioned here before, I don’t really make resolutions but I do have some goals and projects for the New Year. The third Griffin & Price novel from James A. Moore and me has been done for a while, and should be published this year. More info on that when I have it. I’ve got two other books from different publishers in the works, and again I’ll have more to say about that when I can. There are short stories for a couple of anthologies already done, and some secret projects on the way.

   I’ll be a guest for the second time at Anachrocon in Atlanta this February, and I’ll be attending the North Eastern Writing Conference for my fourth time, come July. So looks like I’m already off to a busy writing year.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Conan: Wolves Beyond the Border Issue #1

   Back in the day, the day being the 1970s, Roy Thomas was the only man I wanted to see writing Conan pastiches. Roy had done a fantastic job adapting most of Robert E. Howard's original Conan tales for Marvel Comics CONAN THE BARBARIAN  and SAVAGE SWORD OF CONAN, but he also seemed to grasp the essence of the character, so that when he wrote new Conan tales, they felt more like REH than any of the folks writing prose Conan pastiches. Roy GOT Conan.
   Since then there haven't been many writers whose work on Conan really felt like REH to me, but the guy who came the closest was Timothy Truman. Many people know Truman more for his drawing than writing, and he is indeed a talented and versatile artist, but on Conan he's written more than he's drawn.
   Like me, Truman discovered Conan when he was just a kid and has been a fan ever since. I've enjoyed his adaptations of the Howard material, usually working with artist Tomas Giorello. They've turned out some work that can stand beside the best of Marvel run.
   And now they're doing a new four-issue series. WOLVES BEYOND THE BORDER, based on some unfinished fragments by REH, from which Truman is extrapolating a new tale. This one finds Conan late in life, the aging king of Aquilonia, seeking a final adventure from which he doesn't plan to return. A chance meeting with a former soldier carrying an arcane artifact will plunge the Cimmerian into a new adventure filled with swords and dark sorcery. Truman does a great job drawing the reader in. And Tomas Giorello, to me, is the modern equivalent of Big John Buscema. And if you know how I feel about Buscema, you know what a compliment that is.
 As you can probably tell, I was very very taken with the first issue and I can't wait for the second. Seriously, if you've been pushed away from the Dark Horse Conan comics by lackluster art and writing, come back for this one. I think it's going to be something special.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Confession of an Easily bored Writer

   I can only tell a story one time. I have learned this the hard way. It’s why I don’t outline. It’s why I only describe works in progress in the most general terms, because even if I just tell someone the bare bones of a story, I’ll never write it. I am a story teller. But I can only tell it once.

   Sometimes, if an idea really intrigues me, I can write a couple of different versions of it, but only if no one else has seen it. Beyond a certain point though, an idea just leaves me. I am on to the next idea and the old one is left in the dust. I told it, and I don’t want to tell it again.

   I’m fine with editing, though I don’t enjoy it. Polishing and rewriting is fine once I have a completed story. But I have learned that my best stories, the ones I like best, were hammered out in a white heat. The longer something takes, the larger the likelihood I’ll abandon it. That’s part of the reason I write as quickly as I do. I have to get it on paper before it gets away.

  So anyway, if you ever wonder what happened to a project I mentioned and then never spoke of again, that’s usually what happened. I either wrote it and didn’t like it, or I told someone too much about it and got the urge to tell that particular story out of my system. Luckily, I have a lot of stories to tell.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Farewell Snowman Wrapping Paper

This pic represents the end of an era. Over a decade ago I bought this ginormous roll of wrapping paper and I have wrapped numbers untold of Christmas presents with it. This morning the end finally came. The last two packages wrapped with the snowman paper. Farewell snowmen. We hardly knew ye