Sunday, June 24, 2007

Klark-Ash-Ton and Two-Gun Bob

This weekend I'm reading another of Michael Connelly's Harry Bosch novels, The Narrows. But in between shots of high octane crime fiction I've been reading some short stories too. Last week I picked up The Door to Saturn, which is the second volume of Nightshade Book's collections of the short stories of Clark Ashton Smith. Smith is probably the least known of the "big three" writers from Weird Tales, though he actually published more stories in the magazine than his two better known colleagues, Robert E. Howard and H.P. Lovecraft.
In some ways Smith's work is almost halfway between that of the other two men, in that many of his stories read like Lovecraft's without the element of cosmic horror or like Howard's without the presence of a super hero like Conan or Kull. A lot of his stories have some science fiction elements as well. I wonder sometimes if he failed to reach the popularity of the other two men because of his versatility. It's hard to classify Smith's work and many, perhaps most readers like to know what they're likely to get from a particular author.
Anyway, in addition to Smith, I also re-read the Conan tale, A Witch Shall be Born. It's not one of my favorites because Conan only appears in maybe half of it. The story concerns the evil witch Salome and her attempt to usurp the throne of her sister Taramis and a large chunk of the narrative is told from Taramis' point of view. Much of Conan's involvement takes place off stage.
BUT this is the story which contains the famous scene (appropriated for the awful Conan film) where a crucified Conan kills an attacking vulture with his teeth. That scene still has a lot of visceral impact some 73 years later. (Yes, the story originally appeared in 1934.) It's one of the reasons that Conan remains the baddest of the bad in fantasy fiction, even after all this time.

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