Friday, August 31, 2007

Farewell to Rome


Just finished watching the last two episodes of the second and last season of Rome. The series ended well, though I sure wish they had manged to make a third season. Alas, the production of the show proved too expensive. As I've mentioned earlier, I can't recall the last time I enjoyed a television series so much. Sometimes you just find the right thing at the right time. I'll wait six or seven months and then watch all the episodes again I'm sure. The beauty of DVD boxed sets.
But for now it's farewell to Rome. Goodnight Titus Pullo, wherever you are.

Now I'm Really Cooking

Speaking of breakfast, I was thinking as I was cooking this morning, that here I am, whipping up an omelet and sausage almost casually, when it was barely a year ago that I couldn't cook a darn thing. Now I routinely cook two and three dishes at a time, zipping around the kitchen keeping everything going. I've added many more things to the list of things I can cook and I'm branching out into more ambitious dishes.
I'd like to again thank the inestimable Beth for getting me started and showing me that cooking's not that hard and can even be kind of fun. Just takes some practice.

Record Month

August has turned out to be the month where I've made the most posts of any month since I began this blog. It's been a turbulent Month with a great deal of trouble for people close to me and a lot of stress and disappointment for myself. I think I'm on the upswing though. Feeling better the last couple of days.
I woke up early of course. Managed to stay in bed until 6:00 which is sleeping late for me. Now I'm up and puttering around, eating breakfast, drinking coffee, answering emails and posting at yahoo groups. In a little while I'll drive up to Canton and get my new tires, then meet my parents for lunch. The labor day weekend has begun.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Time to Re-Tire

I've got Friday off, so I'll have a four day weekend for Labor Day, but looks like I'll be starting that weekend by buying new tires. I've been keeping an eye on a slow leak on one of my rear tires for a while now, and it seems to be getting worse, and the other three are getting a bit long in the tooth, so I've decided to take advantage of being off Friday and going to buy new tires. Not as bad as it sounds because of course now I have extra money what with the whole being out of debt thing and all. Still not really the way I wanted to spend my off time, but I plan to go early and get it over with. It's not like I sleep in, anyway.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Old Red Eyes is Back


This is the cover of the first of the Del Rey illustrated Elric trades due to appear next year. These volumes, which follow in the tradition of the Del Rey Robert E. Howard books, will reprint the original Elric stories in the order in which they were published and will contain lots of nifty behind the scenes stuff from Michael Moorcock. Can't wait.

Welcome to My Nightmare

Had a real corker of a nightmare last night. One of those where you wake up with your heart pounding and it takes you a couple of seconds to realize you were only dreaming. It involved a running battle with some horribly grotesque re-animated corpses in an old movie theater. Not zombies, exactly. These were the ghosts of really evil people who had somehow retained control of their bodies after death. Not pretty. As I said before, my subconscious hates me.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Best Book of the Summer


Beth has suggested the topic of 'best thing I read this summer, and I think it a fine topic. Now I'm suddenly glad I did all those 'reading report' posts because it allows me to see most of what I've read this summer. I've read a lot of history, for one thing. A lot of sword & sorcery. A lot of thrillers and mysteries. I've just plain read a lot.
Best thing? Hands down, Dean and Me, by Jerry Lewis. Absolutely wonderful book. Now keep in mind, this is from a guy who never thought Jerry Lewis was particularly funny. But I always liked Dean Martin, way back to when I saw him as Matt Helm in all those spy-spoof movies. Dean was just so cool. Even at six years or so, I could see it. Lewis felt the same. Dean was his hero. The guy he wanted to be like and the guy whose friendship and approval he desperately craved, finally won, and eventually lost. It's the story of a friendship and of a meteoric rise to stardom and the things that came about because of both. And there's so much in there about Hollywood in the late 1950s, early 1960s. Jerry's memories of Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland. All the insider info about who was sleeping with who and who had mob connections.
But mostly it's about the things that fame and fortune can do to people. In the end it's about an enduring friendship that was shattered, but eventually reclaimed. Probably the best Hollywood biography I've ever read and definitely the best book of the summer.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Apollo's creed is 'know thyself'. I know me far too well and I know that this weekend I've been hiding out. I've barely spoken to anyone since I left work Friday. I've made no phone calls and accepted only a couple. I'm spent almost every waking hour either reading or watching DVDs. I've worked hard at keeping my mind occupied and tried to stay far away from introspection.
I'm still somewhat depressed and I can't quite shake it. As I said, hiding out. I've only been partially successful. No matter how well I hide, some of my private demons know where to find me. I've made peace with most of them, but they circle, just beyond the firelight on the off chance that they can catch me when my guard is down. Failing that, they'll just wait until I'm asleep and see me in my dreams.

Lost in Translation


Well I as it turned out, I simply couldn't wait for the second season of Rome so I bought it new Friday. I've only watched a couple of episodes but it seems to be right up there with the first season. Last night I took a break though and watched Lost in Translation again, which has become one of my favorite movies. very well written and directed, with a terrific performance by Bill Murray. I can't say exactly why I like this movie so much. Part of it is that I once spent a couple of very strange weeks in Japan and can certainly identify with the culture shock that Murray's character experiences. Try being in a world where your feet hang off all the beds and the shower head is at chest height.
Then there's the element of insomnia, something I've struggled with my entire life. I've certainly spent plenty of time in hotels awake and somewhat lost.
And I think Scarlett Johanson is gorgeous. That doesn't hurt.
Plus, I like the story. Yes, yes, I know. Big, mean, manly Charles likes a bitter sweet romance. Deal with it.

Reading Report

This weekend I've been reading mostly short stories. Read a couple of Peter Tremayne's Sister Fidelma mysteries from the collection Whispers of the Dead. Tremayne always impresses me with his ability to craft a clever whodunit in the short form, which is much harder than it looks. As historical mysteries go, Tremayne's are some of my favorites.
Also read (or re-read, really) Lovecraft's The Haunter of the Dark, which is the one where an analog for writer Robert Bloch meets a messy death at the hands of a gibbering slavering thing from the outer dark. It was written in response to Bloch's The Shambler from the Stars, in which a Lovecraft analog meets a messy death, etc etc.
Then I jumped to The Road of Eagles, which was one of the posthumous collaborations between Robert E. Howard and L. Sprague Decamp. Decamp took an existing Howard story of the same title, but set in the 16th century Turkish Empire, and rewrote it as a Conan story. This upsets a lot of Conan fans, but I don't really mind. Howard himself would have rewritten it as a Conan tale if he thought he could sell it, and having read both versions I can tell you that Decamp didn't change much other than substituting Hyborian age names and places for the originals. My favorite of these re-writes is The Blood Stained God. Decamp really nailed the rework on that one.
This morning I'm reading Julius Caesar:The Gallic Wars, which is a different translation the standard version of Caesar's campaign in Gaul.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Sleepless in Eternity

2:00 am. Vikings are in my kitchen again. I get up to find them raiding the refrigerator. Halfdan is drinking milk from the carton and the face of Harald the Ruthless is smeared with fat free Jell-O Pudding.
"I've told you guys to keep it down," I say.
"Would it kill you to buy some beer just once," counters Harald.
I shake my head and wander toward the living room, passing Michael Psellus in the hallway. He has my copy of the poetry of Christina Rosetti and seems enthralled. I figured Psellus for more of a Tennyson type, but there ya go.
I flip on the lights in the living room, surprising Mark Anthony and Cleopatra who are necking on the couch.
"Jeez, get a room you two," I say, turning off the light again.
I make my way back to the bedroom, warning the Vikings to turn the lights off when they are done as I pass the kitchen. They sneer at me as only Norse raiders can.
I hop back in bed and hope I can get back to sleep. For the umpteenth time I vow to stop reading history books before bedtime.

Local Customs

Tell you a story. A couple of years ago, Cliff and I were at Heroes Con in Charlotte. We were wandering the dealers room, not finding much to buy, but having a lot of fun. We passed a table that was being manned (Klingoned?) by two fans in absolutely perfect Klingon costumes. Full make-up with brow ridge and the whole nine yards. I happened to make eye contact with one of them and he snapped me the Klingon salute, which is basically the Roman salute. Fist to chest, then arm extended. Without really thinking about it I returned the salute.
When we were past the table Cliff said, "You just saluted a Klingon."
"When in Rome," I said.

Out of Episodes

I watched the last three episodes of the first season of Rome last night. Not surprisingly, things didn't end well for Julius Caesar. I warned him to watch out for that Brutus fellow. There was a rousing fight scene in the arena in the second from last episode with my boy Titus Pullo killing half a dozen gladiators. One of the best fight scenes I've seen in a while.
Of course now I'm out of episodes. I'll buy season 2 of course. The only question is, will I be able to wait until I can get a used copy as I did with season 1. I kind of doubt it. May just have to bite the bullet and pay full price.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Trish is back and the cats have gone home. They'll be back sometime next month. As always I miss them, but I also enjoy the diminished responsibility once they're gone.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Influence?

Just back from Borders, where believe it or not, I didn't buy anything. That does occasionally happen. Usually when I'm short on cash, as I am this weekend thanks to my purchase of Rome Season 1. Noticed the weirdest thing though. As you may recall, a few months ago I was studying the Vikings. Borders didn't have too many books about Vikings, maybe five, and I bough a copy of each. Anyway, suddenly they have like two dozen different books on Vikings and I have to wonder if I didn't cause that. Like their sales records show a spike in the sale of all viking related reference books so the store orders one of every Viking book in their system.Who knows? It's weird though. If that is the case, it's unfortunate for them since I've kind of moved on. I'm obsessed with other things now. heh.

When in Rome...


Several people had been recommending that I give the HBO series Rome a try. Boy were they on target. I love this show. Absolutely love it. Violent and sexy. Extremely well written with wonderful actors and high quality production values. What's not to like? The overall plots are familiar to me from my reading of history and there's some nifty period detail.
Favorite characters? So far, Atia of the Julii and Titus Pullo. Atia is about as amoral as they come, doing anything, and I mean anything, to get what she wants. Played with relish by actress Polly Walker, whose rather unearthly beauty originally caught my attention in the British film Enchanted April a decade or so back. I think she's even lovelier now.
Titus Pullo, as played by Ray Stevenson, wins the "I could be Conan" award for the year. I mean anyone whose motto is "I kill my enemies, take their gold, and enjoy their women." would fit right in with the big Cimmerian's world view.
Anyway, I'm glad I found the first season used on DVD. This is the most fun I've had with a new TV series since the new Doctor Who.

A Nice Find


While I was down in the wilds of Marietta I took the time to stop off at Marietta Book Nook, just in case anyone had traded in something nifty. They had. Got a very nice copy of The Mighty Swordsmen, an anthology of sword & sorcery stories, which came out in 1970. Features stories by Lin Carter, Roger Zelazny, John Brunner, Michael Moorcock, and Robert E. Howard, all packaged under a very cool cover by legendary comic book artist, Jim Steranko. Though I don't really consider myself a collector, I am always impressed when I find an old book in such good condition. Spine isn't cracked. Pages are white. Cover is bright and shiny. 37 years old and it almost looks new.

The Reading Report

Visited the main branch of the Cobb County Library yesterday morning. It's a great library, very well stocked with the sorts of reference books I always seem to be needing. I came away with four books. Gothic, by Fred Botting which is a decent overview of the British Gothic novels of the late 18th/early 19th century. Didn't have a lot in it that I didn't already know, but I'd recommend it as a good text for anyone just beginning a study of the Gothic form. Also picked up Great Tales of Terror and the Supernatural, which contains short stories by some of the authors who were either part of, or were influenced by the Gothic movement. I read through both those books yesterday when I got them home.
The other two books were both historical reference works which I haven't delved into yet, but both Norman Canter's Civilization of the Middle Ages and The Oxford Illustrated History of Medieval Europe (judging by the tables of contents) have at least some material on Greece during the middle ages, which you may recall, was a period and place that I am curious about.
Also re-read Mirage, one of Karl Edward Wagner's Kane short stories, and the Castle of Terror, which is probably my favorite of the Lin Carter/L. Sprague Decamp Conan stories. Has a nice Lovecraftian feel to it.

Friday, August 17, 2007

All's Quiet

Nary a peep out of Amelia last night. She slept well, it seems. Found her perched on top of one of my book cases when I went into the living room this morning. Like many cats she likes to get as high up as she can to survey her domains. Bruce was in and out of bed about half a dozen times during the night, but at least he's quiet. Woke up at one point to find him sitting on my back, grooming the hair on the back of my neck. Cats.
Short day for me today, so I should be home by lunchtime to see what else my house guests are up to

The Best of Robert E. Howard Vol 1


Best is, of course, a highly subjective term, and series editor Rusty Burke admits this in his forward to this collection of the short stories of Robert E. Howard. Rusty did poll a bunch of Howard fans to get a consensus of which stories were thought to be Howard's best, but the final decision was his.
Overall I'd say he did a pretty decent job. Volume I contains both The Shadow Kingdom and Red Shadows, the two stories that vie for the title of first ever sword & sorcery story. Red Shadows was published first, but it's a tale of Howard's Elizabethan swashbuckler, Solomon Kane, whereas The Shadow Kingdom is one of Howard's King Kull stories. The argument seems to be that some readers feel that a true sword & sorcery story has to be set in pre-history, like Kull's Atlantis of Conan's Hyborian Age, so they disqualify Red Shadows because it occurs in a recorded period of history. To give my take would take an entire essay devoted to the subject, so I'll talk more about it later.
Conan so overshadows Howard's other work that Rusty decided to only allow two stories about the big Cimmerian in this book. He chose The People of the Black Circle, which I agree is possibly the best of the series, though not my favorite, and Beyond the Black River, one of the very last Conan stories Howard wrote.
Also included are Worms of the Earth, which almost everyone (including me) agrees is Howard's best story about the Pict warrior Bran Mak Morn, The Valley of the Worm, one of Howard's tales of James Allison, a man who can recall his previous lives, and Kings of the Night, the story where Kull travels forward in time to meet Bran Mak Morn and fight the Roman invaders of Briton. Winners all.
There are quite a few other stories in this thick (528 pages) trade paperback. All of Howard's major heroes are represented, from Solomon Kane to El Borak. I almost didn't pick the book up though because it only contained two stories that I didn't already have in other REH collections, and those two stories were relatively minor tales of two of Howard's lesser heroes, Sailor Steve Costigan and mountain man Breckinridge Elkins. Still there are a couple of nice essays included, and it's hard to imagine me not buying a book called the Best of Robert E. Howard. Plus, this is an excellent volume to loan people that you'd like to introduce to the vivid imagination of Robert E. Howard.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Mews in the Night

2:00 this morning and I'm wide awake. Bruce the cat is asleep against my right side. Amelia the cat has finally settled back down after waking me at 1:00 by wandering the apartment, crying and looking for Trish. It's sort of sad, really. She meows in this sort of questioning way, slowly getting louder. Like Meow? Meeeeow? MEEEEOW?!
At which point I get up and go to where she is. She's not thrilled to see me. She wanted Trish. She meows some more, but if I just sit down on the couch, she grudgingly accepts my company and eventually calms down. After a while she curls up and goes back to sleep. That's usually good until I get up at 5:15 for work. We go through this pretty much every time I keep her, especially if a couple of months pass between visits. She should be okay after today. The shake-down period is usually about two days.
Takes me a while to get back to sleep, so of course this means I only got about four hours of sleep last night. For normal people that would be a problem. Fortunately, the maximum amount of time I sleep on a regular night is six hours, so I can get by on four hours pretty well.
Things tend to go better on the weekends when I'm around most of the day. Then I can usually keep the cats awake and active more and they tend to sleep all night. Well, Amelia anyway. Bruce, being still a kitten, doesn't sleep any more than he absolutely has to. But then he's got a really quiet, squeaky meow, so he's not nearly as disruptive as his older sister...

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Amelia decided that everyone should get up at 4:00 this morning. Have I mentioned that she's a VERY loud kitty?

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Cliff's dad passed away this afternoon, or rather his body did. Cliff's dad had been gone since the moment of the stroke over two weeks ago. I'm glad that the long wait has ended for Cliff and his family. I can only hope, that if I'm ever put into a position like the one Cliff has had to deal with for the last few weeks, that I can stand up anywhere nearly as well as he has. I didn't know Cliff's dad well, but he raised a hell of a good son, a man whose friendship I am thankful for every day.

Visitors

Trish is off to England (and yes, I am VERY jealous) so her cats, Bruce and Amelia, are rooming with me for a week. Amelia is asleep in my bedroom and Bruce is lazing in a square of sunlight in the corner of the living room. Pretty much standard behavior for them.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

The Light That Failed

The headlight went out on my truck last Thursday. First time on a six year old vehicle so no big deal. Anyway, I stopped at an AutoZone on the way home from work and asked for a headlight bulb for a 2001 Chevy S-10. They gave me a Sylvania series 9005.
Went out this morning to install said headlight before it got too hot out. Took the assembly apart, unplugged the old bulb, inserted the new one in the wiring harness and then went to refit the bulb into the headlight assembly. Didn't fit. I messed with it a bit, then pulled the assembly apart again and looked at it. The seal didn't quite match up on the new bulb. I looked at the tiny tiny numbers on the old bulb and saw that the old one was a Sylvania series 9006. Bingo. The wrong bulb.
Soooo, I have to go get another bulb later today and install it this afternoon when the sun is nice and hot. Yay. I'm not too mad though. I used to be an auto parts counter man. I'm sure his computer told the clerk who served me that the 9005 was the right bulb. Automobile manufacturers are notorious for changing parts in mid run on the line when they run out of something. Probably some of the S-10s do use the 9005. Just not mine.
More violent dreams last night. Not sure what's up with my subconscious. If it's trying to tell me something, I'm missing the message among all the blood and gore. Yeesh.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Misfire and Ice


Fire and Ice was an attempt to bring the worlds of Frank Frazetta's artwork to the movie screen. It doesn't quite work. Frazetta acted as consultant on the film and he did the character designs and lots of production drawings, but the film still doesn't possess much of the power or energy of a Frazetta painting. I think that can be summed up in one word. Rotoscoping.
If you're not familiar with them term, it means that live action footage of actors going through the motions of the cartoon characters is shot first, then that footage is traced frame by frame and turned into drawings which are then used as a guide for animation. It can be effective when used sparingly to capture small nuances of human behavior, but it tends to sacrifice exactly what animation is good at, which is exaggeration.
The characters in Fire and Ice look kind of anemic. Real people just don't look like Frazetta people. And how could they? One of the things that Frazetta is the most proud of is that he never used models for his paintings. He made it all up out of his head. It is that very visceral kind of approach that gives a Frazetta painting its considerable impact. So looking back, one has to wonder why someone thought that tracing photographs would be a good way to simulate the work of a man who doesn't use photographs for reference.
I'd summarize the plot, but as near as I could tell, there wasn't one. It's almost as if someone wanted to take a bunch of the high points from a bunch of Frazetta paintings and then link them together. Oh wait. That's what they did. Never mind.

Sticks


Karl Edward Wagner, the creator of the sword & sorcery anti-hero Kane, was also a noted author of horror fiction. In fact, many people consider Wagner's horror writing to be his best work, and horror may have been Wagner's real love. Even of the Kane stories, he says,

"The Kane stories are basically horror stories in a pseudo historical setting with a dash of blood an thunder where it's called for."

Most of Wagner's horror is collected in three volumes, In a Lonely Place, Why Not You and I, and the posthumous Exorcisms and Ecstacies. I highly recommend these books, but they're getting really pricey lately as Wagner's work becomes more collectible. Start with In a Lonely Place, as it contains some of Wagner's absolute best stories, including The River of Nights Dreaming, and Where the Summer Ends, which is particularly creepy to Southerners like myself.
I was re-reading what may be Wagner's most famous horror tale, Sticks, last night. Set around world war II, Sticks tells the story of an artist who, while hiking in some remote woods, begins coming across bundles of sticks tied together in strange lattice-like patterns and nailed to or hung from trees. He eventually discovers an abandoned house which is covered inside and out with these weird sculptures, and in the basement he comes across something far more sinister. (If you think this sounds like the Blair Witch Project, you're not alone.)
Thing is, in an afterward attached to the tale, Wagner explains that the story is based on something that actually happened to artist Lee Brown Coye, a popular pulp illustrator with a very macabre style. For years, Wagner had noted the weird patterns of sticks and twigs that often appeared in Coye's work, and while working with Coye on the Manley Wade Wellman collection "Worse Things Waiting", Wagner asked the artist why he put these odd sticks into his work. Coye gave Wagner the strange story which Wagner would eventually weave into the very creepy Sticks. I've included a sample of Coye's work which incorporates the sticks with this post. but if you want to see more, check out this link. Just make sure you have the lights on...

http://library.morrisville.edu/coye/

Friday, August 10, 2007

Down

I'm struggling a bit this week. One of my very best friends is going through one of the worst periods of his life right now and I'm very sad for him.
One of my other friends is having some difficulties as well, and that's weighing on my thoughts.
On a less important note, I've had to cancel some plans I was really looking forward to, mostly due to my own stupidity, and thus feel like I've let another friend down.
I'm just down. It happens. At least it's the weekend.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Lord of the Book Case


There's a fairly large market among collectors of comic books and popular fiction for statues of various heroes. You can purchase amazingly detailed sculptures of Superman, Thor, Wonder Woman, Spiderman, Wolverine, Batgirl, and pretty much any other comic hero you can think of, plus a wide selection of other fictional characters, running the gamut from Buffy to Captain Kirk or from The Terminator to the Three Stooges. Though I've admired quite a few of these over the years, I've almost always managed to resist the temptation to buy one of these miniature marvels. There was, however, one notable exception and now there are two.
Several years back, Hard Hero Enterprises came out with an absolutely beautiful Conan statue, based on the art of my favorite Conan illustrator, the late John Buscema. I couldn't pass that one up. It stands proudly atop one of three book cases that run along the back wall of my living room. It was a limited edition and its value has increased considerably over the years. That doesn't mean much to me. I was just glad to get a nifty Conan statue.
About six months ago, Reel Art Studios announced that they would be releasing a statue of Tarzan based on the cover of Edgar Rice Burroughs' novel Tarzan and the Golden Lion by classic Tarzan illustrator John Allen St. John. After seeing the prototype sculpt, I pre-ordered one on the spot. It came in last night. It's a beautiful statue that really does manage to capture the look of the cover painting. Jad-Bal-Ja, the titular golden lion, was always a favorite character of mine. He was a lion cub that Tarzan found and raised and he appeared several times over the years in various Tarzan novels and even more often in the Tarzan comic books. So it's definitely cool to have a statue of not only the lord of the jungle, but of his faithful feline companion as well. (I always thought if I got an amber colored cat that I would name him Jad-Bal-Ja.)
I plan to display the statue on top of one of the other three book shelves, not far from Conan. That will probably be it for me as far as statues go. The only other statue I can think of that I'd really like to have would be a nice sculpt of Sherlock Holmes. Haven't seen one that I liked as of yet.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Time On Your Hands

While I was watching the various documentaries on the Back to the Future boxed set, one question that kept coming up to cast and crew was, if you could travel in time, where would you go? That's a hard call. It's tempting to want to see dinosaurs. It's also tempting to want to go to some time period where I could meet a favorite author. Jump back to 1895 London and hang out with Conan Doyle or to Cross Plains Texas in 1934 to see Robert E. Howard at the height of his pulp writing career. Maybe visit some SF Con in the 1970s and speak to Lin Carter or Karl Edward Wagner. Have to be careful when traveling within ones own lifetime though. I'd probably run into Cliff before he'd actually met me.
The thing to keep in mind is that the past is a dangerous place. Jump back much before 1800 and you've got a good chance of meeting a messy death. Anyone who wants to visit the Roman Empire or Ancient Greece would do well to remember that our ancestors had precious little tolerance for anachronisms.
Then there's the amenities or lack there of. The middle ages probably looked more like Monty Python and the Holy Grail than Prince Valiant. Sanitary conditions weren't good. Still, I guess if you carried a first aid kit and some antibiotics you could make a short Holiday in the distant past.
A couple of the folks on the DVD said they'd like to visit the future. That holds less interest for me than the past. Figure I'll get there on my own eventually.
Anyway, feel free to comment. You've got a De Lorean with a Flux Capacitor. Where would you go?

Greek to Me

I need a good book about Medieval Greece, covering the 10th and 11th centuries. I don't seem to be able to find one. Everyone is absolutely fascinated by ANCIENT Greece. I can get all the books on that time period I could want. In fact, I have tons. But nobody seems to know what the Greeks were up to circa 1066 or so. I mean, they must have been doing something. Didn't anyone write it down?

The Day Off

76 degrees out there at 5:45 this morning with a high of 98 expected. August in Georgia. Gotta love it. I had a pleasant day off yesterday. I went to Movie Stop and traded in some more DVDs. Picked up Fire and Ice, the animated Sword & Sorcery movie made by Ralph Bakshi and Frank Frazetta. Haven't seen that one in a couple of decades.
Also picked up the boxed set of the three Back to the Future movies. I always loved those movies. I'm a sucker for time travel anyway, and the Back to the Future films are just a lot of fun.
Swung by the bookstore and left with a new book about the psychology of serial killers. I don't read a lot of crime reference books these days because I found that reading a lot of that sort of thing tended to make me depressed. Still, I needed a bit of information for a book idea, and this looked like a useful book.
By the time I'd done all that, the temperature was in the upper 80s and climbing, so I headed for the AC and watched a bunch of the extras on the Back to the Future set. I love to watch documentaries about how films are made. Just fascinates me. Hard to believe the first BttF film came out in 1985.
Then I finished up Michael Moorcock's book The Dragon in the Sword, and started reading Adept's Gambit, one of Fritz Leiber's longer Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser stories. That's the day that was.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Hot

I'm off today. We hit a slight slowdown at work, and I have a lot of vacation left here at the eighth month of the year (like two weeks worth) so I decided to take a day off. Unfortunately I've done it on what may be the hottest day of the summer so far. Temperatures hit 96 degrees yesterday and may go up to 100 today. The humidity level is enough to take your breath and that's just as well because the smog level is enough to make you ill if you breath too much.
Anyway, I plan to get any running around I need to do out of the way early. Then I'll be back here in the air conditioning, hopefully chillaxin and doing fun stuff. Luckily most of my hobbies are indoor hobbies.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Random Weekend Thoughts

I didn't read much this weekend. Surprising, since I spent a lot of the weekend without Internet access, but sometimes even I'm not in the mood for reading. I also watched a lot of DVDs, a couple of which I've reviewed here.
What little reading I did was mostly re-reading. I had been meaning to re-read some of Fritz Leiber's Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser stories. It had been six or seven years since I'd returned to the boys from Lankhmar, and a few of the stories I hadn't read in a couple of decades. I'll talk more about that later.
Otherwise, I had a restless weekend, one of those where I paced a lot and did mindless things like cleaning the living room and straightening bookshelves. I spent far too much time in introspection. Always a dangerous thing.
I did make it to the gym several times. I worked my biceps so hard Sunday morning that I had the shakes while I was trying to shop for books. That's what you get when you train to exhaustion.
Let's see, what else?
I had possibly the worst pizza I've ever had, and have now wiped Papa John's from my list of restaurants.
I had many strange and somewhat disturbing dreams, which I won't go into.
I read a bunch of old comic books.
That's pretty much it.

The Best S&S Film

I've been trying to decide what the best Sword & Sorcery film ever made is. The one that comes closest to approximating the feel of the works of Robert E. Howard and his followers. The pickings are pretty slim. I've made it no secret that I don't care much for either of the two Conan films. The first one was very popular but has about as much to do with Conan as the Johnny Weissmuller Tarzan films have to do with Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan novels, which is to say, not much. The second film, Conan the Destroyer, is a bit better but still no great shakes. Kull, starring my pal Kevin Sorbo, is okay too, but the storyline makes very little sense. We won't even talk about the Red Sonja movie.
The success of the first Conan film brought about a bunch of cheap quickie rip-off movies such as The Sword and the Sorcerer, Deathstalker, and The Barbarians. Utter drek.
A leading contender is Beastmaster, which while not being very much like a REH story, does come close to the feel of such lesser S&S lights as John Jakes' Brak or Lin Carter's Thongor. It's a fun movie and the 'look' is pretty close to what a Conan film should look like, more ancient Mesopotamia than Medieval Europe.
Ditto The Scorpion King, which has the look and some great action sequences. My only problem with Scorpion Kings is that it's played for laughs a bit too much. Like "we don't really take this stuff seriously, folks." Not that Sword & Sorcery is a serious genre, but I would like to see a S&S film played straight.
Some of the films that most closely approximate Robert E. Howard's vision don't contain any outright sorcery which sort of disqualifies them as S&S films unfortunately. Films such as Gladiator and The Thirteenth Warrior. The two movies I watched this weekend, 300 and Pathfinder fall into this category as well.
Some of Ray Harryhausen's movies come close. The Golden Voyage of Sinbad in particular, being a darker movie than most of Harryhausen's work and being more concerned with the black arts than the other Sinbad movies. But there's a bit too much of the fairy tale in all of the Sinbad movies.
Ultimately, I don't think that a definitive Sword & Sorcery movie exists. The precise mix of historical fiction and horror hasn't been reached yet. Were I given the money and the task of filming a S&S film, I'd probably shoot an adaptation of the a Conan story, like Rogues in the House or perhaps The People of the Black Circle, either of which contain the proper elements and enough plot to make a decent film. There is an animated version of the Conan novella Red Nails in production at the moment. I'll be interested in seeing how that turns out.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

300


I enjoyed 300, but mostly for the action sequences. I think a lot of the things that worked in the comic didn't really come through on film. Mostly the characters seem to be just that, characters as opposed to people. They strike their poses and speak their lines and don't generate much human interest. The much hyped green screen sets and world are impressive and visually arresting but to me they seemed to heighten the feeling of distance I already felt from the shallow performances of the leads. The fights were great though. Much better than Brad Pitt's wu-shu Achilles in Troy. Fine as an afternoon's entertainment, but not one I'm likely to watch over and over.

Off Line

For the past two days I've had trouble getting to the Internet. In fact I've just now manged to get online like ten minutes ago. Talked to Bellsouth this morning and they insist it's my external modem. They are overnighting me a new modem, so we'll see, but if you've emailed me or tried to reach me through a forum, I may be out of touch on and off until this gets straightened out.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Pathfinder


I traded in some old DVDs today at Movie Stop and thus was able to get two brand new DVDs for the grand total of $2.28. I got 300 and Pathfinder, two sword slashing films if there ever were. Just watched Pathfinder. I'd heard a couple of bad reviews of the film but I rather enjoyed it. It is very violent, with much blood and gore, but it has some really great action sequences.
The films concerns a viking child who is left behind in America after an ill-fated Norse raid and is raised by native Americans. Fifteen years later, a really mean band of Vikings come to the new world and decide to wipe out all the native populace before settling. Much hacking and stabbing ensues. Having just spent the last six or so months studying the Norsemen, I can tell you that the makers of this film know next to nothing about Vikings, but hey it's an action movie, not a documentary. The vikings are pretty much treated as monsters. You rarely see the faces of any of them behind their historically innacurate horned helments, and most of them don't have any lines. The two lead vikings are played by Clancy Brown, who was the villain in the original Highlander film, and by Ralf Moeller, who played Conan in the short lived Conan TV series.
The hero is Karl Urban, probably best known for the Lord of the Rings. In the extras, the director mentions that he lucked out in that three of his stars had already done a lot of sword fighting movies so he didn't have to send them to boot camp.
Anyway, it's not a great movie, but as someone once noted, if you like this kind of thing you'll probably like it.
It's been a real flashing swords kind of weekend here so far, all and all. Last night I re-watched The Scorpion King, which is probably the best Conan movie anyone has made, even if it doesn't have Conan in it. The films Mesopotamian setting at least looks like the Hyborian Age, and the Rock makes a great Conan-style hero. Much better than either Conan the Barbarian or Conan the Destroyer. Kind of reminds me of the first Beastmaster film, which I liked. Better production values but a similar feel.
Dunno if I'll get around to 300 tonight or wait until tomorrow. I'm sure I'll let you know.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Muggy

Woke up about 1:00 AM to a feeling of damp and heavy air. Humidity levels in the ever humid south have been worse then usual the last couple of days. Most nights, I bump the AC off just as I go to bed. I'm usually asleep before the apartment warms up and by the time I wake up, the morning is cool enough not to be a problem. If I let the AC run all night I tend to wake up with clogged sinuses.
This morning, when I awoke in something akin to a sauna, I got up and turned the AC back on. When I woke up again at 5:00, I was slightly congested, but I don't think I'd have been able to get back to sleep in the heat and humidity without the AC, so there ya go.
Showered and shaved, I walked out my front door into a wall of humidity. I was sticky before I even reached my truck. I'm ready for fall now. Bring it on.