Friday, November 30, 2007

The Other Jungle Lord

They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. If that's the case then Edgar Rice Burroughs should feel very very flattered indeed, for he is one of the most imitated writers of all time. His best know creation, Tarzan of the Apes, has spawned any number of second string jungle lords, from Kwa to Kazar, and from Jann to Kioga. We won't even get into Sheena and the other female versions.
Few of these knockoffs had long lives, most appearing in only one or two stories in the heyday of the pulps.(Though Kazar got a second chance in a slightly altered form in Marvel Comics) The one exception to the rule was the star of the Fiction House pulp magazine Jungle stories, Ki-Gor the Jungle Lord. Ki-Gor appeared in no less than 59 stories over the run of Jungle Stories, an especially impressive number when you consider that Edgar Rice Burroughs only wrote 24 Tarzan books. The Ki-Gor stories are shorter, usually running about 50-60 thousand words, but still. it's an impressive record given the lack of success for the other Tarzan wannabes.
In his book, The Great Pulp Heroes, Don Hutchinson proposes a likely theory for Ki-Gor's success. Where most of the other jungle lords were only similar to Tarzan, Ki-Gor, for all intents and purposes, WAS Tarzan. There were surface differences of course. Ki-Gor was blond where Tarzan's hair was black. Ki-gor's wife was a redhead named Helene instead of a blonde named Jane. But the basic concept, a white man raised in the jungle who becomes the lord of that jungle and has adventures in lost cities and such, was essentially the same. Readers of the pulps in those days couldn't get enough of Tarzan, and Ki-Gor was a good substitute.
One of the other differences was that Ki-Gor's adventures were more action oriented, being closer in spirit to another pulp hero. Doc Savage. He even had his own version of the bickering Savage aides, Monk and Ham in Tembu George, a gigantic Masai warrior, and N'geeso, the pigmy. These two were savage fighters and always seemed to be on the verge of killing each other, though in truth, either would have died to save the other man.
Adventure House, a pulp reprint publisher, is currently reprinting the Ki-Gor adventures in their magazine High Adventure. I picked up the latest issue this week, and while I was home sick yesterday, I read The Silver Witch, one of the two Ki-Gor stories in that issue. In this one, Ki-Gor discovers yet another lost city and must battle the mutant minions of the beautiful but evil Silver Queen, She really is silver too, having been mutated by the weird elements bubbling up from the soil in her lost realm. Very fun with lots of action.
Ki-Gor has started appearing in some new adventures too, from the folks at Wildcat books. Wildcat specializes in pulp style adventures and has recently been bringing back some old pulp characters who have fallen into public domain. Copyrights were never renewed on the Ki-Gor adventures and the character himself was never trademarked, so anyone can write new Ki-Gor adventures, unlike Tarzan who is still a trademarked character of Edgar Rice Burroughs Inc. You can write Ki-Gor. I can write Ki-Gor. All God's children can write Ki-Gor. And actually, I might get around to using the character at some point, though I have invented my own jungle lord recently.
Anyway, I can definitely recommend Ki-Gor to those who enjoy a fast paced jungle adventure. It ain't Tarzan, but it's probably the next best thing.
My head is less stopped up this morning, and I don't seem to be feverish, but I my throat is still sore and I have almost completely lost my voice, and when I can speak I sound like a troll at the bottom of a well. I have a deep voice anyway, and it only takes a little bit of a sore throat to make me sound like Vin Diesel on a bad day.
Anyway, I'm going to work this morning just in case any emergency drafting stuff has come up, but it's only a four hour day and after that it's back home to rest up. One thing I have learned is to just sit still when I'm sick. All the cold medicine in the world won't help unless I shift into low gear and just let my body heal itself up. At least it's the weekend. I read a couple of interesting things yesterday while I was home. Perhaps I'll blog about that later today.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Head Cold

Well, my traditional Holiday cold has come a little early this year. I've been feeling a little run down the last couple of days and my throat has been somewhat scratchy. Last night when I was out to dinner with the gang, my throat gradually became worse as we were talking. This morning I woke up sweating and had to throw my covers off and my throat has become very raw. Since I am apparently feverish and I'm more or less caught up at work, I will stay home today and not share my germs. Sitting here, typing this I can feel that I'm definitely warmer than I should be. Hopefully this will blow over quickly. Bleh.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Black Shape

Ah, the adventures of having a vivid imagination. Driving in to work this morning under a layer of dark clouds that scudded over a gibbous moon, I was jolted out of my morning reverie by seeing the car in front of me suddenly swerving to one side. Figuring there was some object in the road, I slowed down and got ready to dodge whatever obstruction presented itself. Turns out there was some...thing standing in the road. It was a massive black shape that didn't pick up any highlights from my low beams, almost as if it was a shadow rather than a solid thing. It lumbered out of the road as I got closer, blending into the pines that line the sides of the shadowy access road. Don't know if it was a bear or a really really big dog, but it was darned spooky out there in the scant moonlight. There's a story there somewhere...

Monday, November 26, 2007

My mother said I look like a bouncer. For some reasons that just cracks me up.

The Reading Report

Finally broke the novel barrier this weekend. Read Robert B. Parker's latest Spencer book, Now and Then. While a definite improvement over the last entry in the series, Hundred Dollar Baby, it's still nothing to write home about. Basically it seems like parts of a lot of other Spenser novels rearranged and stitched together to make this years commitment to his publisher. The dialog still sparkles and Parker has lost none of his trademark wit, but there's nothing to really make this one stand out.
I read several horror short stories by Ramsey Campbell, including 'Call First' which had been recommended as a particularly creepy one. It did have a nice, EC comics type jolt right at the end. Also read one of Campbell's completions of a Robert E. Howard Solomon Kane stories, Hawk of Bashti. I thought he did a pretty nice job with it.
I re-read Karl Edward Wagner's 'The Gothic Touch' and related material so I could write the rather lengthy essay that appears below. Karl's longtime friend John Mayer has put the essay up at the official KEW website, which is pretty cool.
I've begun Ruth Rendell's Inspector Wexford novel 'End In Tears' and it's off to a good start. More about that later. Cliff called to tell me that the second volume of the Collected Letters of Robert E. Howard has finally arrived so I'll be reading that soon. That's pretty much the reading report for now.
Well, the four day weekend has come and gone. I didn't get nearly as much done as I'd planned, which, as always, leaves me feeling a bit annoyed with myself here on Monday morning. I wanted to do more writing, but didn't have much luck. These are the days that I wonder why I even bother. The words don't come and I can't make them and I take it as some sort of personal failure. Or I do manage to write something and I end up not liking it. It's a strange endeavor. So I ignore it for a while and don't think about it, but I always come back to it, and eventually I write something I like and I recall how much fun that can be. But not right now. Now I am stuck with my fall back mantra. I have written well. I will write well again.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Gothic Touches in The Gothic Touch

The first Karl Edward Wagner story I ever read was The Gothic Touch. This was a crossover between Wagner's anti-hero Kane and Michael Moorcock's iconic albino, Elric of Melnibone, which appeared in an anthology of Elric stories called Tales of the White Wolf. At the time that I read it, I knew very little about Kane, Wagner, or the Gothic Novels of the eighteenth century. All that would soon change.
Like many people who hadn't actually read the Kane books, I assumed he was just another Conan knock-off. The Frank Frazetta covers of the Warner paperbacks did a lot to further this image, showing the usual sword & sorcery images of a big guy in armor fighting demons or just standing there looking dangerous. Reportedly, Wagner wasn't completely pleased with Frazetta's vision of Kane, but a Frazetta cover certainly didn't hurt sales in the mid 1970s.
As I began to track down and read the Kane stories though, I soon learned that Kane not only wasn't a Conan clone, he wasn't even a barbarian. He was instead, a staggeringly well read and intelligent man who had traveled his world for centuries and was able to discuss music, poetry, politics, and any number of subjects. He was also a born killer and completely amoral. He was, in fact, the biblical Cain, an immortal who must walk the world until slain by violence. And Kane is darn hard to slay.
In his essay, The Once and Future Kane, Karl Edward Wagner discusses the origins of his character. While Wagner admits to admiring and being somewhat influenced by the works of Conan's creator Robert E. Howard, he gives his primary influence as the Gothic Novels of the 1700s.
The Gothic genre got its start in 1765 with Horace Walpole's novel, the Castle of Otranto, the book that defined the genre and set up many of its tropes and conventions. It features a gloomy haunted castle, a brooding hero-villain, and much supernatural goings on. The next few years would see the novel become very influential and imitated. The scope of the genre is too wide for me to get into here, but the recognized classics of the genre, what Wagner calls' 'The Standard Four' are Otranto, Mathew Lewis's The Monk(1796), Ann Radcliffe's The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794) and Charles Maturin's Melmoth the Wanderer (which comes in a little late in 1820).
It was Maturin's work which would be the biggest influence of the creation of Kane. Wagner says, "If I had to pick the book that shaped Kane into the character he is, it would have to be Melmoth the Wanderer. Melmoth, a doomed wanderer who trails catastrophe and misfortune in his footsteps, immortal so long as he can find another soul willing to sacrifice itself willingly for his sake...I don't know how Kane would have taken shape without Melmoth, but he would be a different character if I hadn't read Maturin."
Not that Kane is in any way a copy of Melmoth or the Gothic Wagner's only influence in the development of his writing. Wagner goes on to list many other writers who influenced his work, including C.L. Moore, Poul Anderson, Robert W. Chambers, Manly Wade Wellman, and others.
As I noted, at the time that I first read the Kane stories, I wasn't that familiar with the Gothic Novel genre and thus missed a lot of the references Wagner was making. It was reading Jess Nevin's The Encyclopedia of Fantastic Victoriana, with its history of the Gothic and its summaries of the plots of the major Gothics that got me seriously interested in the subject. Once I began to study the genre I began to see what Wagner had been trying for in much of his work. An invaluable resource was The Literary Gothic webpage. (see link at bottom of post) This site has hundreds of articles, stories and links to further reading. Of particular interest was a list of Gothic tropes included with Lilia Melani's 'The Gothic Experience" a course related website from Brooklyn College.

* 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.

Many of these themes show up over and over in the Kane stories. Ruined or partially ruined castles feature prominently in Misericorde, Lynortis Reprise, Reflections for the Winter of My Soul, Mirage, and of course, The Gothic Touch. (See, I was going somewhere with all of this.) In fact, the Gothic Touch is practically a catalog of all of the above and I suspect purposely so. It almost seems as if Wagner was winking at us, wondering if anyone would catch all the Gothic references. Let's look at the list alongside the story. (There are some spoilers here, so if you intend to read The Gothic Touch, go read it, then come back. You've been warned.)

A castle, ruined or intact, haunted or not. In the first few paragraphs, Elric suggests that he and Moonglum take shelter from pursuing enemies in a nearby ruined castle that is reputed to be haunted. That covers item two as well.

Dungeons, underground passages, crypts, and catacombs. After explaining to Elric that he needs his help o recover a treasure fallen from the sky, Kane leads the albino and his sidekick Moonglum into a stairwell that leads into an underground passage and then into a maze of tunnels. They pass through a dungeon torture chamber that is described in loving detail.

Shadows, a beam of moonlight in the blackness, a flickering candle, or the only source of light failing. Elric and Moonglum are attacked by weird mutant creatures who knock over Elric's lamp and threaten to do the same to Moonglum's which would leave the two heroes in the dark with the creatures.

Extreme landscapes, like rugged mountains, thick forests, or icy wastes, and extreme weather. The ruined castle is located amidst rocky terrain, and a massive thunderstorm rages as the story begins.

Omens and ancestral curses. The original inhabitants of the castle are said to have raised a demon to guard the treasure that fell from the sky. Also, the hideous mutant creatures that live underground are thought to be the decedents of survivors of a battle between the castle owners and an army of treasure seekers.

Magic, supernatural manifestations, or the suggestion of the supernatural. Hello? It's Elric and Kane.

A passion-driven, willful villain-hero or villain. Hello again? It's Kane!

A curious heroine with a tendency to faint and a need to be rescued–frequently. Okay, Wagner skipped that one.

A hero whose true identity is revealed by the end of the novel. Not his identity so much as his true motives are revealed as we learn that most of what Kane told Elric was a lie. He covered up the extra-terrestrial origins and the true nature of the 'treasure' so that Elric would help him.

Horrifying (or terrifying) events or the threat of such happenings. Pretty much from the first paragraph to the last.

This is a wonderful story filled with a lot of dark humor as Kane and Elric fence verbally and a lot of sword wielding action as well. I believe that it was the last Kane story that Wagner wrote, and if so, he went out on a high note, using as many of the tropes of a beloved genre as he could work in. There's more than a touch of the Gothic in The Gothic Touch.

Now go check out the Literary Gothic web page. Tell em Kane sent you.

Friday, November 23, 2007

The Department of Lost Barbarians: Ryre

Technically speaking, Ramsey Campbell's Ryre isn't a barbarian, but rather a mercenary swordsman of somewhat murky origins, however his adventures are suitably sword & sorcery-ish to get him included in the DoLB.
I've already mentioned his first adventure, The Sustenance of Hoak from Swords against Darkness volume 1. Ryre has three more adventures in further volumes of Swords Against Darkness, The Pit of Wings, The Changer of Names, and The Mouths of Light. Hoak is probably the strongest of the lot, with Pit next in line.
All four share two attributes in that they are all primarily horror stories with action added to the mix and that all feature menaces you've never seen before. One of Ramsey Campbell's stated goals as a writer is to not repeat himself and to not write about the same old things. He succeeds admirably, both in the tales of Ryre and in his horror fiction. I've read about half the stories in the collection, Alone with the Horrors, and I've yet to run into anything trite or overused. Campbell has a lot of original and disturbing ideas. It's nice to see a writer who isn't satisfied to just fall back on the same old tropes.
I find it a little disappointing that there are no more Ryre stories. They're some of the more effective sword & sorcery tales I've read in a long time. Campbell has reportedly written at least four other heroic fantasy stories, but none of these feature Ryre as the protagonist. All four Ryre tales and the other four fantasy stories are collected in a small book called Far Away and Never published by Necronomicon Press in 1995. I've got a copy on the way.
I also discovered while researching Campbell, that he completed three of Robert E. Howard's Solomon Kane fragments. I'm not usually one for anyone finishing up fragments in this way, but I figure Campbell can pull it off if anyone can. And as it turns out, I already own the edition that the stories appear in. It was sitting in a stack of REH paperbacks I'd bought a while back. I'd just never looked at it carefully because the Del Rey edition of Solomon Kane is now the definitive one.


This Thanksgiving went much better than last year. My family and I went to the assisted living home to visit my grandmother again but this year the home let us use their arts and crafts room so we were able to pull some tables together and all sit down to eat breakfast together almost as if we were still at Ma Bess's house. We had brought food and coffee and orange juice, so it went very well.
That afternoon I went to my brother's house and my sister in law had outdone herself in terms of cooking, so I fulfilled the thanksgiving tradition of eating entirely too much and then going home to sleep it off.
I made a pretty comprehensive list in last year's blog post of the things I am thankful for, and looking at it, I see that it hasn't changed much, so I won't spend time amending it. I will say, after looking at it again, that I am often more fortunate than I deserve, and I'm thankful for that.

Monday, November 19, 2007

The Doctors Are In

There's a nice little postscript to Doctor Who Season 3 wandering around Youtube. In this short vignette, filmed as part of the UK's Children in Need fund raiser, David Tennant, the current Doctor is visited inside his Tardis by Peter Davidson, the fifth actor to play the Doctor. It's a clever little story where the two Doctors have to solve a small crisis and get to antagonize each other. There's a nice bit where the current Doctor gets to tell his former self that "I loved being you. You were MY Doctor."
This is nice because Peter Davidson was the Doctor when Tennant was eleven years old and watching Doctor Who on the BBC. Davidson was Tennent's first Doctor. Coincidentally enough, Davidson was MY first Doctor as well. The first episode of the series I ever saw was Castrovalva, which was shown on my local PBS station. It was the first full episode to feature Davidson as the Doctor, following Tom Baker's long run on the series. I watched Davidson's entire run before ever seeing an episode with Baker, John Pertwee or anyone else, so he remains the Doctor to me. Almost a quarter of a century since he was on the show, he still looks about the same in his costume. A little older. A little heavier. But still the Doctor. Still MY Doctor.

The Doctor is Out

Well I'm all out of Doctor Who, or at least the regular episodes of season 3. I still have the Christmas special to watch. Season three held up to my expectations and was probably the best written season so far. I won't summarize any episodes but I will mention that the final three-part season ender is amazingly ambitious in terms of scope. It's almost a feature film in of itself. The series ends with an emotional cliff hanger rather than a physical one, which is fitting because the relationships between the various characters continue to be the focus of the show amidst all the monsters and the mayhem. Anyway, now I have to wait a year to watch Season four. Either that or get BBC America or the sci fi channel. I'll probably just wait and get the DVDs. I like being able to watch the whole season in short order.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Towering Adventure

Yesterday I was re-reading Fritz Lieber's Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser story, The Howling Tower, and I started wondering why so many Sword & Sorcery stories have to do with towers. In addition to Lieber's tale there is Robert E. Howard's seminal S&S story featuring Conan, The Tower of the Elephant, and a mysterious tower also figures in Howard's non-Conan story, The Garden of Fear.
Michael Moorcock weighs in with the Elric novella, The Vanishing Tower and L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter send Conan to yet another tower in their pastiche, The Gem in the Tower, then each man writes his own tower centered novel, de Camp's The Goblin Tower, and Carter's The Tower at the Edge of Time.
Conan comics scribe Roy Thomas gets into the act with The Strange High Tower in the Mist in Marvel Comics' Conan the Barbarian comic. Of that story, Thomas says, “Issue #56 was a potboiler. It had elements of a typical Conan story, including a monster and a tower.”
So what is it about towers? Well avoiding the obvious Freudian symbolism, I think that towers are somehow linked in our minds with magic. Most wizards in fairy tales live in towers. Rapunzel was imprisoned in a tower and so was sleeping beauty. Think of the Disney castle and you see soaring towers with banners fluttering in the breeze. The image is romantic and evocative of adventures 'beyond the fields we know'. Towers are just plain cool. I think I need to write a story with a tower in it.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

But if You Try Sometime, You Just Might Find

I swung by Doctor No's today to pick up some books I'd ordered through Amazon. (I have all my packages sent to Cliff's store because my local mail person kept losing packages sent to my apartment.) Anyway, I was hoping for my Ramsey Campbell collection, but of course of the three books I'd ordered, that's the one that didn't show.
I was talking to Cliff about it, and I said. "You don't have any books by Ramsey Campbell here do you?" Over the years, various SF, Fantasy, and Horror books have accumulated at the store. Dr. No's is primarily a Comic Book and Gaming shop but Cliff also stocks some books that are related to those industries, and sometimes he just stocks things he likes and thinks you should like too. He has a fairly extensive group of books by and about H.P. Lovecraft and Campbell falls into that circle so I thought I'd ask.
"Hmm," said Cliff. "I might."
We walked over to the area where the books are displayed and right near the top was a copy, not of the book I'm waiting on, but of a Campbell book that was next on my list to order, Alone With the Horrors, which is supposed to be the best collection of Campbell's horror shorts.
"Hey, that's just the book I wanted!" I said.
Cliff chuckled because he's always happy when he has things people want, and it really was kind of funny that the very book I needed was the one that was sitting on the shelf. Cliff referenced a Stephen King story about the little store that had a very small stock of things but the one thing it always had was the one thing you needed the most.
I thought back to my pal Chris's theory that I actually control reality, but only when I'm not trying. For years it seemed that whenever I wanted something to happen, it did, but only if I just sort of mentioned it in passing. Like I'd say, "Gee I wish someone would reprint Gil Kane's Black Mark stories in one volume, and a month later, that book would appear. But it only works if I'm not trying. Like right now, if I suddenly wish I would receive a million dollars, it won't happen because I am consciously trying to use the power. It must be a completely innocent idea. Of course Chris also thinks that I have the psychic ability to kill aging movie stars, but that's another story...

Friday, November 16, 2007

Reading Report Redux

I find that I'm still not in the mood for novel reading, or possibly I just haven't found the right novel. I started the sixth Women's Murder Club book by James Patterson and Andrew Vachss' new thriller, but just couldn't get into either. I think that has more to do with me than the two authors. I put both books aside and will try again later. I've read my way through most of the stories in the five volumes of Swords Against Darkness, leaving only one of the Ramsey Campbell Ryre stories to go. That's been my favorite series in the anthologies. I ordered a collection of Campbell's stories from Amazon which should arrive soon.
Wednesday I picked up The Metatemporal Detective, Michael Moorcock's collection of stories about Sir Seaton Begg, who solves mysteries in the various parallel dimensions of the Multiverse. There are three stories that I haven't read in that volume. Might read some of that this weekend.
I should probably start looking around for some Christmas reading. I like to read stories set at Christmas, particularly mysteries. I think Anne Perry has a new short Christmas novel out, come to think of it.
In the meantime, I'm doing a re-read of Mark Finn's biography of Robert E. Howard. I'm planning on getting Steve Martin's memoir 'Born Standing Up' which looked very interesting. Couple of other things on the horizon but nothing I'm just dying to read. If you've been following this blog for a while you know that sometimes I read one book after another, just tearing through them for weeks at a time. Then I'll hit slow periods like this one, where I tend to read a lot of short stories and non-fiction. Reading is a constant, but the quantity does vary.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

I have purchased eight of the eleven Christmas gifts that I need for the Season as of today and I have the other three in the works. Go ahead and hate me. Everyone at work does now that they know...

Monday, November 12, 2007

Entertaining Myself

Some of you know I can sing, you've actually heard me. Some of you have even heard my Elvis impression which has been described as "scarily on target." One of the things that I do to entertain myself when I'm driving is to sing songs in Elvis's voice that he never actually sang. Some work and some don't. Today I was singing Nirvana's Heart Shaped Box.

She eyes me like a Pisces when I am weak
I've been locked inside your heart-shaped box for weeks
I've been drawn into your magnet tar pit trap
I wish I could eat your cancer when you turn back

You don't know what fun is until you imagine the King singing 'eat your cancer'. Actually this one would have been pretty good for Elvis. Cranks up nicely at the chorus. Works much better than Nine Inch Nails' Closer, I can tell you.

Weekend Report

The weekend was fairly calm. I met Trish for lunch Saturday at El Rodeo, the same Mexican restaurant where I have dinner with the Doctor No's gang every Wednesday, so it was a double Mex week for me. After lunch I stopped by the store and chatted with Buck, Whitney, and Julie for a bit. That was pretty much the extent of my social activity for the weekend.
Sunday I read some more short stories and actually did some writing. I wrote about half of a new short story and tinkered with a couple of other works in progress. As a result I felt much better this morning than I often do on Mondays. I find I don't hate Mondays quite as badly if I feel that I accomplished something constructive over the weekend. And if I did some writing I was actually pleased with, well that's the best.
I also ordered some used books from Amazon. A collection of Ramsey Campbell's short stories and the first volumes in two sword & sorcery series that I wasn't familiar with. I don't have high hopes for either, but you never know.
Beyond that I did the usual web surfing and emailing folks and such. Just a standard weekend in Kennesaw, really.
Oh and I watched some more Doctor Who of course. This season isn't going to last long I can tell...

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Thinking Man's Heroes

One of the things that I like best about the Doctor is that he stands for reason in the face of chaos. The Doctor is almost always up against some foe that he can't possibly beat on a physical level. Robots. Giant monsters. Aliens. Armies of Daleks. There's no way he can fight his way clear so what does he have to do? He has to think his way out of trouble.
In this he reminds me of one of my other favorite heroes, Adam Strange. Adam was an earth man, transported to the distant planet Rann where he was forced to fight one super powered menace after another. Armed with only a jet pack and a ray gun, Adam was always far outclassed by the various aliens and monsters he came up against. But being a thinking man of action, Adam always managed to find a way to beat his foes. He out thought them.
DC Comics has recently published one of their Showcase volumes of Adam Strange reprints. Over 500 pages for $19.95. If you've never read them, I highly recommend the series. Wonderful SF stories and great art by Mike Sekowsky, Carmine Infantino, Gil Kane, and Murphy Anderson

Friday, November 09, 2007

The Doctor is In

I picked up the third season of the new Doctor Who on DVD yesterday. Truth to tell I was a little concerned that I might not like it as much as the previous two seasons because of the departure of Billie Piper, who played the Doctor's traveling companion Rose Tyler. Over two seasons Rose and the Doctor had developed a relationship and a rapport that was going to be very hard to replace.
I needn't have worried. The Doctor's new companion Martha Jones, played by Freema Agyeman is a worthy successor to the formidable Rose. She and co-star David Tenant (The Doctor) have a very winning chemistry.
As for the rest of the show, the three episodes I've watched so far have been top notch. The writing just zips the shows along at a breakneck pace and the dialog is wittier than ever. The second episode, where the Doctor and Martha team up with William Shakespeare to fight a trio of witches was just a tremendous amount of fun. I'm hoping for more time travel oriented episodes. The aliens and monsters are great, but I like to see the Doctor dashing about in Earth's history whenever possible.
I see from the episode guide included in the DVD box set that the Doctor's old enemy The Master will return in one of the later episodes of the series. The Master is a renegade Time Lord, the Doctor's opposite number in every way, as dedicated to evil and self gain as the Doctor is to Justice and self sacrifice. This will be his first appearance in the new series. Almost makes me want to skip ahead to the end, but that would be cheating. The writers of the series go to amazing lengths to have their character and story arcs build gradually over the series so it would be a shame to mess that up. Anyway, great to have a new series of Doctor Who to watch, I'll do my best to keep to one episode a day, but no promises. This is just too much fun.

If I Won the Lottery

What would I do if I won the lottery? This question comes up at work periodically and I always have trouble answering it. See, there are very few 'things' that I actually want. Don't care about cars. Not interested in houses. Just not the way my mind works. So when the other folks reel off a list of things they would buy I always feel sort of left out. I rarely play the Georgia lottery anyway. Usually the jackpot has to get above 200 million. Then I will buy a couple of quick picks just to feel I'm part of the event. Were I to actually win the 200 million, I guess I'd have to give the distribution of the funds a bit more thought.
Like most people I'd make sure that my family was taken care of. Be nice to have plenty of money to care for my parents as they age, put my nephews through college, etc. But in many ways, I don't think my life would change that much. Most of my fun money goes toward books, and I tend to buy all of them that I want already. I don't collect antiquarian books so a lot of cash wouldn't really change my book buying much.
I guess I'd buy a condo or something, but that would probably be down the line. As I said, I don't really want a house, so I certainly wouldn't buy a big mansion or anything like that. I'd probably have a succession of nice apartments and just live in different places for a while. That might be fun.
Obviously I wouldn't have to work anymore, so that would be a major change. I'd have to find some stuff to do though. I didn't deal well with all the inactivity when I worked as a comic book writer and had so much free time.
Ultimately, were I suddenly wealthy, I would use the money for travel. I'd probably rent a house in London for a couple of months and fly any of my friends over who wanted to visit. (Take Beth and Laura to tea at Brown's Hotel.) Then I'd bump around Europe for a while. Re-visit Japan. That sort of thing.
And that's really all I can come up with. I've never been very interested in money. As long as I have enough to pay my bills and buy some books and movies, I'm pretty happy

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Notes From Uncle Ernest

Ernest Hemingway always said that it was bad luck to talk about writing. He felt you should do it and not talk about it. But over the years in essays, in letters, interviews, articles, and in his novels and short stories he would occasionally let slip some of his philosophy about writing. Larry W. Phillips ferreted out all the references to the art of writing that he could find in Hemingway's work and collected them into a slender little volume called Ernest Hemingway on Writing. I picked up a copy in 1999 and I've lost count of how many times I've read it.
It's one of the book I fall back on when my writing isn't going well. Though I don't always agree with Uncle Ernest, as I call him, it is his convictions about writing, his total devotion to the art, and his refusal to do anything other than his best which inspire me and help me get back to the work. Hemingway says:
"I love to write. But it has never gotten any easier to do and you can't expect it to if you keep trying for something better than you can do."
That's it in a nutshell. I can always write the same old stuff. I am, after all, the plotting machine. But I always want something different too. In some ways the two main things that I try for in writing are almost diametrically opposed. I want to write in the traditions of authors I admire but I also want to do my own thing. It's the friction between these two goals that usually makes the work I am happiest with. This may sound a bit odd from a guy who writes mostly about barbarians and private eyes, but I do take writing seriously and I try to do it well. Here is my favorite quote from Hemingway.

"All good books are alike in that they are truer than if they really happened and after you are finished reading one you will feel that all of that happened to you and afterwards it all belongs to you; the good and the bad, the ecstacy, the remorse and sorrow, the people and the places and how the weather was."

Sunday, November 04, 2007

The Reading Report

Been reading lots and lots and lots of short stories this week. Many from the Swords Against Darkness collections I mentioned a few posts back. Interesting thing about those is, some of the writers have stories in just about every volume and many use continuing characters, most of whom I wasn't familiar with. Richard L. Tierney's Simon of Gitta, and Ramsey Campbell's Ryre have become a couple of favorites.
I've been reading mystery shorts as well, finishing off The Mammoth Book of Perfect Crimes and Impossible Mysteries. I'm a sucker for a locked room mystery and this is a book full of them. One even has a solution amazingly similar to one I came up with for a story although for a completely different kind of murder. I still need to get around to writing the one about the man found stabbed in an old cedar chest that has been locked from the inside.
Also read a couple of John Jakes' Brak stories which resulted in the DoLB post about the blond Conan clone.
Just haven't been in a novel reading mood the last couple of weeks although I have plenty of books waiting in my to be read pile. Luckily I have lots of short story collections.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Lady in Cement

Back in the 1960s Frank Sinatra did a pair a movies where he played a hard-boiled private eye named Tony Rome. I bought both movies on DVD a year or two ago when they were on sale. Today I watched 1968's Lady in Cement, the second of the films. following up the eponymous Tony Rome. I remember seeing this movie on TV a couple of times when I was a kid.
The plot is a bit murky. While scuba diving on a treasure hunting trip off the coast of Miami, Tony finds a the nude body of a recently murdered woman on the ocean floor, her feet encased in a block of cement. Backtracking the dead girl involves Tony with a local mob boss, a very large smalltime hood (Dan Blocker of Bonanza) and a rich society dame with a drinking problem. (Raquel Welch) There are fistfights and gun battles and a car chase or two. Near the end Frank stands around a lot and explains the plot.
The films biggest flaw is probably that Frank can't stop being Frank. Anyone who's seen Sinatra in The Manchurian Candidate or From Here to Eternity knows that the man could act. But in this film he just can't stop mugging for the camera and delivering his lines like he's on stage at the Sands with Dean and Sammy. It makes it tough to take the plot seriously. The previous film was played a bit more seriously and is considerably better.
On another note, I had forgotten just how stunning Raquel Welch was early in her career. She can't act to save her life, but she was an amazingly beautiful young woman.
The weirdest thing was just looking at Miami in 1968. I remember when Florida looked like that. I remember that world. The buildings and the cars. All those massive Fords and Chevrolets. The men in their suits and the women in their bright dresses. The guys with their slick backed hair (a little dab will do ya) and the women with their hair teased to heights undreamed of and held in place with copious amounts of hairspray. It looked like the budget was blown on Raquel's false eyelashes alone. Ah, the sixties.
Anyway, I had fun with the movie. I'm including the poster for Tony Rome with this post because it's a lot more cool than the one for Lady in Cement.

The Department of Lost Barbarians: Brak

John Jakes' Brak the Barbarian isn't quite as lost as some of the characters I've showcased here at the DoLB. Most people with more than a passing knowledge of the sub genre of sword & sorcery will at least be familiar with Brak. However, since the Brak books have been out of print since the 1970s, there's a good chance that a lot of folks haven't actually read any of them.
Now before you ask, yes this is the same John Jakes who is now a famous historical novelist. He hit the big time in the mid 1970s with his Bicentennial blockbusters The Kent Family Chronicles. Since then he's turned out quite a few well received and best selling historical novels. (His latest, The Gods of Newport, is just out in paperback.) But if you jump back to the early 1960s, Jakes was working as a copywriter in the advertising field and selling stories to the ever shrinking supply of fiction magazines. Jakes wrote whatever was selling. Crime stories, westerns, science fiction and fantasy. Then in 1963, with the encouragement of editor Cele Goldsmith, Jakes began writing a series of Conan style adventures for the SF/Fantasy magazine Fantastic Stories. Goldsmith should perhaps be considered the patron saint of Sword & Sorcery, because she also coaxed new Fafhrd and Gray Mouser stories out of Fritz Lieber and published the early works of Michael Moorcock.
Brak is basically a blond Conan, adventuring on a parallel earth with a technology level roughly equivalent to the early Roman Empire. Brak lacks Conan's savage nature, but he's still a barbarian in a civilized world so his adventures follow the Conan mode pretty closely. He fights the usual assortment of evil wizards, demons, and monsters. Jakes makes no bones about this. In reply to an early letter to Fantastic he has this to say.
"The reader's letter expressed the opinions that Brak was but a pale imitation of mighty Conan, and what was worse, had probably been conceived either out of ignorance of Conan, or with full knowledge and therefore out of sheer cupidity. To the first part of this charge I plead delightedly guilty."
Beginning with 'Devils in the Walls' in the May 1963 issue of Fantastic, Jakes would continue to write of Brak into the late seventies, when presumably, his success as a historical novelist caused him to concentrate his efforts in that genre. There are three Brak novels and two collections of short stories. I find the short stories to be more readable than the novels. Jakes prose is certainly very solid but the Brak stories are short on characterization, so they don't hold up well in the long form for modern readers. I recommend the collection 'The Fortunes of Brak'.
Brak also made it into comic books, though very briefly. His first appearance was in Chamber of Chills #2 in 1973 in a tale called Spell of the Dragon. The story was scripted by Jakes but plotted and with layouts by artist Dan Adkins. The finished art was by Val Mayerick and Joe Sinnot. That story was reprinted in Savage Tales #5, then Jakes' short story The Unspeakable Shrine was adapted over two more issues of Savage Tales. I keep thinking that some enterprising comics company should get the rights to do a new Brak comic and steal some of the readers of Dark Horse's Conan and Dynamite's Red Sonja.
The last new Brak story, 'Storm in a Bottle' appeared in the Lin Carter edited anthology Flashing Swords #4 in 1977. In an introduction to one of the Brak books, Jakes mentions that he has plotted the final Brak tale and locked it away, but I doubt we'll ever see it. I interviewed Jakes several years ago, and while he was more than happy to talk about his days writing Brak, he had no interest in ever returning to the character. Fantasy was a genre he felt he'd left behind.
Still, the Brak stories were written as pure genre entertainment and taken as that they are a lot of fun. They are easily and cheaply available in used bookstores and online, and well worth tracking down if you're up for some light escapist adventure.

A Year of Blogging

I just realized that this blog is a year old now. Actually a year and two days since I first posted on November 1st, 2006. So I've been at this for a whole year. Reading my first post, this is the line that I find the funniest.

"So why no blog? Well primarily because I didn't think I'd update it enough to make it worth the time to create one, and that may yet prove true."

As it turns out, my prolificness of posting has become something of a running joke amongst my friends. This is my 359th post in the 367 days the blog has existed, so while I haven't averaged a post a day, I've come darn close.
Reading back over the posts I have noticed a couple of things. I read a lot. I know a lot about a lot of weird subjects. I am obsessed with Robert E. Howard.
On a more important note, I accomplished a lot during this year of posting. I lost 50 pounds. I got out of debt. I got a complete collection of Savage Sword of Conan. I learned to cook. I put some old demons to rest. As the end of the year draws close, I can actually look back and be pretty pleased with what I've accomplished.
Oh, and I posted a lot.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

A suitably macabre dream last night for Halloween. Can't remember all the details, but it involved me and a couple of friends (probably Chris and Lanny) trying to rescue a woman from an apelike creature that had taken her into a cathedral and had carried her up into one of the balconies. A furious struggle ensued with the ape-creature tossing me and the guys around like the proverbial rag dolls until I managed to get onto its back and pull its head backwards until the vertebrae in the neck snapped. I've been doing a lot of neck breaking in my dreams lately. Must have some pent up aggression. Anyway, it was a dream that would have made Robert E. Howard proud.