Monday, December 31, 2007

Beowulf Rocks

Just back from viewing Robert Zemeckis's Beowulf in 3D. I enjoyed it tremendously. A rollicking good time for the sword & sorcery enthusiast. In case you haven't seen the previews this is the fully computer generated film with motion capture performances by Ray Winstone, Anthony Hopkins, John Malkovich, and Angelina Jolie. The action is pretty much non stop in this one, with lots of fights and monsters and the kinds of stuff that I go to movies for. It is a bit on the violent side and the monsters are pretty scary, so parents should probably be aware that this isn't a kids cartoon. It even stays fairly close to the original legend.
The 3D effects are very impressive so try and catch this one in the 3D version. You get to wear nifty glasses and everything. Arrows come flying at you, and it seems that at any moment a dragon may drop into your lap. (I was hoping Angelina might pop out, but no go.)
On an odd note, Brenden Gleeson, who plays Beowulf's right hand man Wiglaf, looks amazingly like photos I've seen of the late fantasy author Karl Edward Wagner, red hair, beard and all.

Broken Glass

I started David Drake's book The Fortress of Glass but soon hurled it aside in irritation. By page 25 Drake was still introducing his main characters. And I mean that quite literally. There are apparently over half a dozen main characters to this book, and Drake takes roughly three pages for each, stopping the plot to give you his or her entire background. Now if an editor saw a new writer doing this, he would chastise the writer for "info-dumping" but since it's Drake, a perennial best seller, he gets away with it. The book may well pick up in chapter two, but I won't be around to see it. A novel usually needs to get off to a quick start to hold my attention and this one isn't meeting that criteria. Bleh.

Two Thumbs Up

Watched a couple of movies over the weekend that I'd been meaning to get around to. Live Free or Die Had and The Simpsons Movie. I enjoyed them both.
The fourth Die Hard movie was a huge improvement on the third, which I found rather ponderous for an action movie. This one is probably closest in spirit to the first film, at least as far as Bruce Willis's portrayal of NYPD cop, John MacLaine. The wisecracks and the 'take no crap' attitude is firmly in place. The years between the first film and this one have given Willis a sort of world weary look that really works here.
Oh sure, there are a couple of physics and logic defying moments, but as a slam bang action movie, this one really delivers.
I found the Simpsons movie to be a lot of fun, but ultimately not much different from an episode of the regular series. The story really isn't any more far fetched or bigger than many existing TV episodes. The makers did make use of a bigger budget for more impressive animation effects, giving the objects more depth and having a few more ambitious animated set pieces, but overall it wasn't hugely different from the show. Guess that was to be expected after all the years the Simpsons has been on the air. Not a lot that you could really change without conflicting with the established series.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Cold December Rain

I've been out to breakfast and over to Borders to book browse already this morning. Had to make my way through a cold rain which is still falling. This is the sort of rain our drought plagued state needs, slow, steady and fairly heavy. It was still dark when I went to breakfast, and I asked for a table near a window so I could sit and watch the rain fall through the street lamps, forming dark puddles on the wet, black asphalt.
Didn't do much good at the bookstore. Picked up the first volume in one of David Drake's series that I've been meaning to try. More on that later. Now I'm home, listening to the rain, a sound that I never get tired of and hear far too infrequently of late.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Make Room! Make Room!

I was doing a little book culling and rearranging last night. A recent spate of collectible hardbacks has made it necessary for me to make some more room on my bookshelves. It also caused me to rethink some of my categories for shelving, particularly on the sword & sorcery shelves. Originally the top shelf was reserved for hardbacks of what I consider to be the five main sword & sorcery originators, Robert E. Howard, C.L. Moore, Fritz Lieber, Michael Moorcock, and Karl Edward Wagner. Below that I had Conan and Tarzan hardback and trade paperback comics collections (because the shelf is taller and they fit) and below that were H.P. Lovecraft related books and assorted fantasy, with art books on the lowest and tallest shelf.
With the recent acquisition of two of the three volumes of The Collected Letters of Robert E. Howard and the Last of the Trunk, it occurred to me that I probably had enough REH related books to give him his own shelf. So I pulled everything that wasn't REH off the top shelf, added the Del Rey Trades of Kull, Bran Mak Morn, etc to the hardbacks and then pulled various Howard biographies and studies from the literary biography section on another bookcase and put all that together. It almost filled the shelf, leaving just a little room for the third volume of letters. So that worked.
Then I moved Moorcock, Lieber, etc to the next shelf, filling the Howard gap with Flashing Swords hardbacks and the recent Charles Saunders Imaro trades, making for a nice Sword & Sorcery shelf.
Then I added the new Collected Fantasies of Clark Ashton Smith and my two Ramsey Campbell books to the Lovecraft section, moved some art and comics related books around and eventually got things the way I wanted them. For now...

Pizza Dreams

I read an article a while back where some authority on dreaming (and I'm not really sure how you get to be an authority on dreaming) said that what you eat doesn't have any effect on your dreams. I'm going to have to sort of disagree, because whenever I eat pizza, especially if I eat too much of it, I have stranger dreams than usual, and if you know how my dreams are, then you know that's saying something. I had one too many slices of a Mellow Mushroom pepperoni and mushroom pizza last night and I spent all night fighting every manner of ghoul and goblin and long leggedy beastie that could work its way into my subconscious. At one point I was climbing a spiral staircase with some folks I can't remember now, and I remember thinking, this is a really bad idea. See, one thing I have learned in a lifetime of nightmares is you never go upstairs. The basement is a bad idea too, but upstairs is right out. Monsters always seem to live upstairs in houses, museums, libraries, and especially churches. So of course as we reach the upper floor this tall, emaciated, bloody, headless, corpse thing comes staggering out of a doorway, proving me right, yet again.
Of course, being me, I ducked low, grabbed the thing around the knees and lifted, pitching it over my back so that it fell into the stairwell and went bouncing down the stairs. Remember kids, fast reflexes are the key to successful monster fighting. It wasn't alone though and things got worse. They always do in my dreams. Anyway, it went on like that most of the night. So expert opinions aside, I think what you eat can cause strange dreams. For some it's Welsh Rarebit, and for some it's pizza, but it still makes for restless nights.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

I Can Has Waffles?

A friend recommended the new Eggo Homestyle frozen waffles, saying that if cooked in the oven, as opposed to the toaster, they were remarkably good. So I bought some this week and dutifully preheated Mr. Oven and toasted me some Eggos. Darn things are indeed pretty tasty. Taste much more like a real waffle than your usual frozen variety. Excellent with a side of turkey sausage. They'll do until I get brave enough to actually start making batter.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Christmas Postscript

Well as it turned out, I spent most of Christmas watching Doctor Who and reading Savage Sword of Conan. Originally Dark Horse Comics was supposed to have the first volume of their Savage Sword reprint series out last week, but they dropped the ball. I'd been looking forward to having the stories easily accessible, but since that didn't happen, I pulled out the first five issues of Savage tales and the first ten of Savage Sword and read my way through them. Also read two Dell Tarzan comics that arrived in the mail on Monday.
As far as the Doctor goes, I had watched the Christmas episode from the first season of the new series on Christmas eve. One final adventure with the ninth Doctor and Rose. It involved Charles Dickens and zombies. Always a winning combination. I'd also re-watched the Christmas Invasion from season two, which was David Tenant's first adventure as the Doctor. It finished up with a sword fight high over London. My kind of show.
Yesterday I watched The Runaway bride, which was the Christmas special from the third season. Got to see something I never thought I'd see. The Tardis involved in a car chase on a busy freeway. Then, still in the mood for more of the Doctor, I watched the two part episode from season one where the Doctor and Rose first meet Whitney's pal, Captain Jack Harkness. Lots of fun. So it wasn't a traditional Christmas, but it was a fun one.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

A Merry Little (and I do mean Little) Christmas

Christmas was kind of abbreviated this year. I was sufficiently concerned with my grandmother's health that I didn't make the Christmas party last night. This morning I went up to my brother's house and exchanged gifts with his family and my parents. My sister in law wasn't feeling well either so she opted out of her usual Christmas dinner activities, so basically my Christmas was over by about noon. I'm okay with that. Though I am feeling much better today, I'd just as soon not be doing any more socializing. I'm home, watching Christmas stuff on DVD and chilling out. I'm having a merry little Christmas with an emphasis on the LITTLE.

Monday, December 24, 2007

The Reading Report

The main book for the weekend was Michael Ennis's Byzantium, a massive (765 pages) historical novel following the career of the famous Norse hero Harald the Ruthless during the period when he was a member of the Varangian Guard, the troop of Norse bodyguards created by the Byzantine emperor Basil II.
This is a very good book if one is interested in 10th Century Constantinople,(and one is) but it's also one of those historical novels that sometimes drags because the author tried to get ALL of his considerable research in. Still, it is far superior to Steven Lawhead's book of the same title and so far, the best fictional book I've read about the Byzantine Empire. Recommended.
Occasionally needing a break from the plodding pace of Byzantium, I stopped to read assorted other stuff. Read a couple of short stories from the latest Clark Ashton Smith collection. Read some more of The Last of the Trunk. Re-read the first novella in Moorcock's The Vanishing Tower just because I was in the mood for an Elric adventure. Read a bunch of Superman stories in the DC Showcase Superman Vol III, including the classic 3 part 'imaginary story' the Death of Superman, where Lex Luthor finally manages to kill the man of steel and the world mourns. Fantastic artwork on that one by Curt Swan. I know I've mentioned before how much I'm enjoying the DC Showcase books, but it bears repeating. I've grown rather tired of many of today's comic books and their creators. The Showcase volumes have really helped to remind me why I fell in love with the medium of comics to begin with, and how much I still love some of the classic characters like Superman, Flash, Hawkman and Green Lantern and their original creators. Carmine Infantino. Gil Kane. John Broome. Gardner Fox. Joe Kubert. Names to conjure with.

Can't Win for Losing

So I got a head cold last month and it took forever to get over it, but it finally went away. Unfortunately right before I left work last week for the holidays, almost everyone in the office had a cold. I tried to stay clear of them. I washed my hands constantly. I thought I'd slipped by, but no, I got it. I imagine my immune system was still weak from the previous cold. Anyway, it doesn't seem to be as bad as the last one, but it's bad enough to be annoying. Just not my year. Of course, traditionally, when I have a cold, it always seems to be at Christmas. The worst case of the flu I ever had was right in the middle of the holidays.
As a result, there's a good chance I won't be going to the Rutledge family gathering at the assisted living home where my grandmother lives this evening. She's pretty frail now and there's no way I'm going to expose her to any sort of cold germs. I feel pretty good this morning, but we'll see how the day goes.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

A Little Book Hunting

Headed out early this morning to Marietta Book Nook to get a little book hunting in. Found a couple of interesting items. One was Kandar, a slender sword & sorcery book from 1969 by Kenneth Bulmer. I'm fond of Bulmer's Dray Prescott series written under his pen name of Alan Burt Akers, and Kandar also had a Jeff Jones cover I hadn't seen before. Funny thing about Jones is in the late 60s/early 70s he was kind of a poor man's Frank Frazetta. If you wanted a Frazetta-ish painting, but couldn't afford Frank, Jones could knock one out pretty quick and was cheap. Thus, many cheap and poorly written Belmont, Tower, and Leisure books have fairly spiffy Jones covers.
Also picked up the novelization of the movie Conan the Barbarian. Yes, I know it sounds like something I'd already have, but I hated the movie and have no interest in reading the novelization. BUT this was a really nice copy and it was the single L. Sprague de Camp/Lin Carter Conan book I didn't own. According to de Camp, Carter didn't actually write any of this one but his name was on the contract so his name is on the book.
I picked up one of the Hercules:The Legendary Journeys tie-in books. If it's as bad as the single Xena novel I own I probably won't read it, but I figured I needed at least one in my collection since I liked the show so much.
And I bought a copy of Ancient Images by Ramsey Campbell. Been enjoying his short stories so much I figured I'd give one of his novels a try. I'd read a synopsis of this one online and it sounds promising. Something about a lost Karloff/Lugosi film that was never released for mysterious and possibly supernatural reasons. I like the sound of that.
All and all, not a bad haul.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Conan and Elric go to Wafflehouse

Another popular story from Christmas Past is my Conan/Elric Wafflehouse vignette. I wrote this in my head on the way back from Wafflehouse one Christmas eve morn, and hammered it out as soon as I walked in the door.

A writer, a barbarian, and an albino walk into a Waffle House. It's Christmas Eve and Dolly Pardon is singing about a Hard Candy Christmas on the juke box. We take a booth in the corner. The waitress doesn't blink at my companions. Guess you see it all at a Waffle House near a major highway.
"What is hard candy?" Conan says.
"It's like solidified sugar."
"What's sugar?"
"I guess they don't have a lot of confectioners in the Hyborian age. It's like someone took all the sweetness out of a bunch of fruit and squeezed it all together in one small lump."
"Sorcery," says Conan, casting an eye toward Elric. The albino either doesn't notice or pretends not to.
"This song is about pain and loss," says Elric. "It speaks to me."
"Never figured you for a country music fan," I say.
"What country is it from?"
"Never mind."
The waitress comes by and takes our orders. I have eggs, bacon, and toast. Elric has something he picks at random off the menu. Conan has one of everything.
"I like this orange juice, but the coffee is not to my liking," Conan says.
"Acquired taste," I tell him.
"So you have this celebration?" Conan says.
"Are there sacrifices?" asks Elric.
Thinking of some of the family I have to talk to, I say, "Yes. Definitely."
"Will there be feasting and brawling?" says Conan.
"Knowing my family, probably so."
The Cimmerian nods as if I've said something profound.
We're making the other patrons nervous, I can tell. I tell the boys to eat up and I pay the check. I leave an extra big tip for the waitress for her trouble.
"I must return to the young kingdoms and seek my destiny," says Elric when we're in the parking lot. "I'll take leave of you here."
Conan says, "I make my own destiny, but I must go as well. Thanks for the food."
"You're welcome. Merry Christmas, guys."
"Aye," says Conan.
Elric merely nods.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Going Nowhere. Fast.

I've been reading through The Last of the Trunk, the Robert E. Howard book I mentioned couple of posts ago. While the book contains several completed stories, I decided to read the fragments first. Some are a short as two paragraphs, while a few are three to five pages long. The interesting thing is that in pretty much every case I think I can see why Howard didn't finish the story.
One of the odd things about writing is that it tends to be mercurial and inconsistent. There are days you can do no wrong and there are days you can't write your way out of the proverbial paper bag. Usually I can tell when I'm not writing up to my ability. Sometimes you can do a rewrite and fix it, but a lot of the time you just have something that needs to be put away. I get that familiar feeling when reading through these fragments. The tone is just wrong somehow. The stories seem forced or somehow false as if Howard didn't really 'feel' the story but was just pushing on anyway. Some of them have too much exposition too early. Some of them have dialogue that is unconvincing. Some are just...weak. Hard to explain but there you go. Anyway, I'm finding it fascinating to see some Howard's stories that just didn't work for him.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Grinch Fiction

I've had a few requests to reprint my Hard-Boiled Grinch poem from several years back. And since I was just talking about Lanny, who appears in the poem, I figured this was a good time.

Grinch Fiction

by Charles R. Rutledge, with apologies to Dr. Seuss and Mickey Spillane.

Every Who down in Who-Ville liked Christmas a lot...
But the Grinch, who lived just north of Who-ville, did not.

The Grinch hated Christmas. The whole Christmas Season.
Now please don't ask why. No one quite knows the reason.
But one night while the Grinch dreamed Grinch dreams in his bed,
Someone crept up Mount Crumpet and killed the Grinch dead.

Now the Whos have no lawmen so I got the call,
With my pals, Chris and Lanny in no time at all,
We looked over the crime scene,
We examined the clues,
We checked in the fireplace, we opened the flues.

"He could have been strangled,"
That was Lanny's Theory.
"Or beaten" said Chris,
But I was still leery.

For I thought that the thing that had made the Grinch dead,
Was the humongous hole that was blown in his head.

"We must go down to Who-ville," I said to the guys,
"And question the Whos before someone else dies.
Lanny you can check uptown and I will check down.
Chris you check the dives on the outskirts of town."

"It's a quarter past noon and we must solve this riddle,
We'll check all parts of town, then we'll meet in the middle."

To the dark edge of Who-ville Chris strolled without fear,
To find Who informants, to ply with Who beer.
He met Hortense Whohah at the foot of Mount Crumpet,
She's the world famous who-ho, the well known who strumpet.

"A Who who's a hooker?" Chris puzzled and pondered.
Then back to her boudoir the two of them wandered.

We'll switch now to Lanny to keep this tale clean,
He'd been ambushed by the Who Gang,
The Who crime machine.

Lanny picked out their leader, a big who named Moe.
Gave him one chance to tell him what he wanted to know.
But Moe wasn't too bright and he made an attack.
My pal Lanny kicked Moe, knocked him flat on his back.

Then he broke both his ankles.
He broke both his wrists.
He rained blows on the top of his head with his fists.

By the time that Lanny had finished with Moe,
He'd learned Moe knew nothing, and decided to go.

Meanwhile I realized I'd made a mistake.
Something at the cave was decidedly fake.

We'd been so anxious to examine the scene of the crime,
That an important fact had escaped at the time.
With the answer ringing like a long winded trumpet.
I turned my feet North and went back up Mount Crumpet.

While outside the cave lay snow wide and deep,
No tracks marked the passage so how could there creep,
A person or persons to finish the Grinch?
I reached the top of mount of Mount Crumpet and crept inch by inch,
To the mouth of the cavern to peer deep inside,
And there lurked the culprit with eyes wild and wide.

Since the snow showed that no one had walked out or entered,
There was only one suspect on whom the search centered.
In deduction and reason my brain had been lax,
The only possible killer was the Grinch's dog, Max.

He still had deer antlers tied to his head,
And the look in his canine eyes filled me with dread.
He still held the gun that had murdered his master,
The dog could move fast, so I had to move faster.

The thing that I now had to do made me sick.
So I got out my gat.
And I got it out quick.

Kachow went the roscoe,
Kapow went the piece.
I tried for a flesh wound,
Nicked his skull with a crease.

"If he gets a good lawyer, he'll be out in a year,"
I told Chris and Lanny, "Now let's get out of here."

"Wait a minute," said Chris, "There must be a lesson.
There's always a moral so don't keep us guessin."

I shrugged as I gazed down at Who-ville below,
Still waiting for Christmas, still covered with snow.
"If there's anything, guys, that's to be learned here,
It's don't make your dog dress up like a reindeer."

A Small Taste of London

Went to the mail today and found a package from my pal Lanny, who lives in the wilds of Texas, and who is one of the original members of the Doctor No's gang. Now that he lives out west we rarely get to see him. I opened up the package to find three Galaxy Bars. The Galaxy bar is a milk chocolate candy bar that I discovered on my first trip to London England back in 1996. It quickly became a favorite of mine and I always made a point of buying a big bunch of them whenever I was in the UK. They can be a little hard to get on this side of the pond.
A few weeks back Lanny called me from a British specialty grocery store he'd discovered in Texas and asked if there was any particular British food I wanted. I said, Galaxy Bars! of course.
Today they arrived wrapped in Christmas paper inside a Priority Mailer. Made my day. I sat right down and unwrapped one of them and ate it slowly. The taste took me right back to London, my favorite city, and to a lot of good memories. And it was doubly good because I was able to enjoy the candy thanks to the thoughtfulness of my friend. So thanks, Lanny, and Merry Christmas. You're a pal.

Two Out of Three

In addition to being a nifty Holiday evening, last night was also a banner night for book buying with new books by two of the 'big three' Weird tales authors. In case you're unfamiliar with this triumvirate of scribes, that would be H.P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, and Clark Ashton Smith. Only Lovecraft wasn't represented.
The Last of the Trunk is a thick volume that is quite literally the last of the trunk where Robert E. Howard stored his manuscripts. Over the years most of Howard's prodigious pulp output, both published and unpublished, has been collected into various volumes. This book represents all that remained. Fragments, drafts, outlines, sketches, and all the other stuff that didn't really fit in anywhere else. Mostly of interest only to the Howard completist, the book was published as a limited edition of only 300 copies. Mine is number 67, which is the same number as my Collected Letters of Robert E. Howard volumes. Pretty darn cool.
The other book was A Vintage From Atlantis: The Collected Fantasies of Clark Ashton Smith, Volume 3. Third in a projected five volume set, this is another collection of the shot stories of CAS. Smith was the author I originally was least interested in of the three. The dark imaginings of Lovecraft and the over the top action of Robert E. Howard sort of overshadowed Smith back in my early reading days. More recently though I have come to appreciate Smith's prose and I have come to think him probably the finest stylist of the group. Poetic, strange, and evocative, his writing carries a weirdness to it that no other writer can really match. Great stuff and two more volumes to go.

Faithful Friends

Last night was the Doctor No's Christmas get together. I racked up, scoring a cool new watch from Trish, A much coveted Spiderman Omnibus from Cliff, and more baked goods, candy etc, than you could shake a stick at from the gang. Thanks to everyone!
More importantly it was a very fun evening with my friends and everyone seemed to have a really good time. Much laughing and carrying on. I've said it before, but it bears saying again. I consider the Doctor No's group to be my extended family so while it's always great to hang out with them, I am reminded at the holidays just how important these people are to me.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Paper Procrastination

Well as usual, I bought all my Christmas presents (except an extra one I picked up yesterday) early but have yet to wrap any of them. I have to hand out the first few this evening, so I guess I'll have to knuckle down and do some wrapping. I don't know why I always put wrapping off to the last minute. I don't really mind doing it and I'm fairly good at it. Somehow though, I always seem to be wrapping things just a couple of hours before they're unwrapped. I haven't even bought any paper yet. Guess I'll stop by a drugstore on the way home and pick up some paper and some tags.
Now, will I wrap everything while I'm at it tonight? Probably not. Just the stuff I need for tonight. And I'll probably wrap the stuff I need for Christmas eve on Christmas eve, and the stuff for Christmas morning on Christmas morning...

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Cat Plan B

Well as things turned out, Trish will not be out of town for eleven days at the Holidays as originally planned but instead only four days, This will mean we'll be switching to Cat Plan B. Plan B means that instead of Bruce and Amelia coming to my place to stay, I'll swing by Trish's place every other day and check on them, make sure they have food and water, and just hang out for a bit. Basically, since it takes Amelia three or so days to get used to my place, and since Trish has to bring so much stuff up, litter box, food, dishes, toys, etc, it's easier for me to just go down there on any trip shorter than five days. Don't worry. Trish has longer trips planned for the spring, so I'll have more thrilling cat sitting stories then.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Hogfather Part II

I just finished watching part two of Hogfather. This is, without a doubt, the best Christmas movie I've seen in ages. It's just really really keen. I'll be watching this every year now. It's got all the things you want in a Christmas special. Family, friends, heroism, selflessness. And it has monsters and magic and last minute rescues. Now that's a Christmas special.
Oh and it has Death. I have a special fondness for Death as a character because long before I had read Terry Pratchett's books and seen HIS Death, I had been the grim reaper myself over at a friend's text RPG board. One day, just to be silly, I had Death come walking into the standard D&D style tavern where most of the adventures began, take a seat at the bar, and order root beer and some pistachios. I meant it as a joke, but people liked the character and so for several years I was Death. He would show up and do something zany, then run off to collect the souls from a border war or something. I even escorted the souls of characters who were killed to the afterlife if they PMed me and requested it. Later I came across Discworld and found that someone had beaten me to the punch. But still my Death was sufficiently different that I didn't feel too bad. I enjoyed seeing Pratchett's version on the screen though, because that's pretty much how I always figured mine would look if he were walking around. Hey, it's a skeleton in a robe. Duh.

Happy Hogswatch!

Well the Christmas DVD viewing began yesterday afternoon with an unexpected feature. While browsing at Borders yesterday morning I was surprised and pleased to find a US version of the DVD of last year's UK production Hogfather. For those of you unfamiliar with Hogfather, he's the Santa Claus analog in Terry Pratchett's Discworld books. He brings presents to kids on Hogswatchnight.(The 32nd of Dec.) Think Santa with nasty tempered hogs pulling his sleigh instead of Reindeer and you've basically got it.
Anyway, the plot is about the insidious plans of the Auditors, a group of mystical accountants who are in charge of running reality, to get rid of Hogfather. The auditors don't like mythical creatures. (Or really much of anyone or anything, come to think of it.) They employ an assassins guild to do away with the fat man. The assassin sent for the job is the psychotic Mr. Teatime, (pronounced Tee-a-ti-meh) who starts out by attacking the stronghold of the tooth fairy. Why? That would be telling.
Anyway, Death gets involved, trying to save his fellow anthropomorphic personification by impersonating him in order to encourage belief in Hogfather. The sight of the grim reaper, dressed in Father Christmas robes and flying about delivering toys has to be seen. Meanwhile Death's granddaughter, Susan, gets involved and sets out to find out what has become of Hogfather. It's rather complicated.
I have to admit, I wondered how the makers of the show would get in all the back story necessary for the uninitiated to understand Discworld. They basically didn't worry about it. They just tell the story and you have to keep up.
One thing I didn't realize was that the show was 189 minutes long and broken up into two parts. I guess it originally aired that way in the UK. I ended up only watching half of it yesterday and will probably watch the other half tonight. Made for a nice Christmas surprise, as I had wanted to see the movie since hearing about it last year.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Sunday Evening with Elric

Just finished a re-read of 'While the Gods Laughed', the middle novelette in Michael Moorcock's Weird of the White Wolf, the third 'novel' in the original series of six Elric books. I use quotation marks because Weird, like the other Elric books, isn't actually a novel, but a collection of novellas or novelettes. The Elric books, as they were printed in the mid 1970s, tended to be about 60,000 words and generally were made up of three 20,000 word sections or sometimes four 15,000 word segments.
Anyway, this is the story where Elric first meets his sidekick Moonglum, the little man with the twin swords, the red hair, and the big mouth. Elric is on a quest for the Dead Gods Book, a tome that might hold the key to his escaping his dependency on the demon blade, Stormbringer. If you're not familiar with Elric, he's an albino, sickly and weak in his normal state, who is given superhuman power by a symbiotic relationship with his rune carved black blade. Stormbringer drains the souls of anyone it kills, and unfortunately the vampiric sword is just as happy to kill friends as enemies.
I consider Michael Moorcock to be one of the true originals of the sword & sorcery field, because rather then writing about a Conan clone, as many of the other S&S writers were content to do, Mike created a sort of 'anti-Conan'. Where Conan is huge and powerful, Elric is slight and weak. Where Conan hates and fears sorcery, Elric is a powerful mage. The stories of Elric take place in a dark world, similar to Conan's Hyborian age, but closer perhaps in spirit to the world of Poul Anderson's The Broken Sword or possibly Jack Vance's Dying Earth. Moorcock, who claims to hate world building sketches in the details of The Young Kingdoms as he goes.
'Gods' is a fast paced story with plenty of action, monsters, and the touches of strangeness that are particularly Moorcockian. If you haven't read the Elric stories in a while, dig em up. They remain some of the best heroic fantasy yarns available. And if you don't have copies handy, don't worry. Starting in February of 2008 Del Rey books will begin reprinting all the Elric material in a series of illustrated trade paperbacks patterned after the recent Robert E. Howard volumes. These will contain lots of nifty features such as articles, interviews, comic book scripts and all kinds of previously unpublished material. I'm looking forward to getting them.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

I have cleaned the bathroom, washed the dishes, and made some effort at straightening up the living room. That's about as productive as I feel today. Later I might talk myself into doing some laundry but that will probably wait until tomorrow. Saturday isn't turning out to be a very entertaining day so far...

Friday, December 14, 2007

Morning Thoughts

Saw a shooting star this morning. That's always kind of nifty. Reminded me of one night years ago when I was out late and happened to look up as I got home, just in time to see a meteorite shower. For a moment I wondered if earth was being invaded as falling star after falling star hurtled across the night sky.
This was one of those mornings when I woke up and my brain said, "Gee, I'm glad it's Saturday." Then, about four seconds later it said, "It's not Saturday, you idiot. It's Friday! Now get up and go to work so you can make money and buy me some protein!"
Stupid pushy brain...

So, it's like a week before Christmas. I have bought all of my presents, though I have yet to wrap any of them. I'd better do that before Bruce comes to visit because I can't even read a newspaper without him attacking it, so I imagine trying to wrap packages won't go well.
Haven't really done anything Christmassy as of yet. Haven't even dug out my Frank Sinatra Christmas CD, which is my default Christmas soundtrack. Maybe I'll watch some sort of Christmas movie this weekend, but somehow I doubt it. Usually save all that for the weekend before Christmas. My Standard Christmas films are two different versions of a Christmas Carol and The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle, which is the Sherlock Holmes Christmas story. Sometimes I will add How the Grinch Stole Christmas, (the cartoon, not the movie) Miracle on 34th Street, and A Christmas Story. Oh, and I have three Doctor Who Christmas specials, two of which I've never seen.
Looking at my Christmas posts for last year I see that I never managed to get into the proper Christmas spirit and hoped that this year would go better. So far it hasn't. I'm not down about the Holidays or anything. Just not terribly interested.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

A Gentle Madness

I'm not sure why I always have to be collecting something. I think your mind either works that way or it doesn't. Part of it is the thrill of the hunt. It's fun to be looking for things, tracking them down, seeing what kind of deals you can find. Mostly though, in my case, my collecting manias, which are almost invariably of the printed variety, seem to be driven by love of whatever I'm collecting. In that way I'm probably not a serious collector. I don't want the things simply to have them. I want to read and re-read them. In fact, if I can get my hands on a reprint, I'm just as happy, perhaps more happy with that than with an original. That's why I'm having so much fun with the DC Showcase volumes. I can read Green Lantern, Flash, Hawkman, The Atom, and so many others from the very beginning and I don't have to own thousands of dollars worth of comics. They're always there on the bookshelf whenever I want them, and if I spill coffee on them, I just go and buy another volume. They're cheap.
That said, there are some comics that aren't likely to be reprinted, and thus if I want to read them (and I do) I have to hunt down the originals. Case in point. The Dell/Gold Key Tarzan comics. These are of course, a double whammy for me, because I like Comics and I like Tarzan. Two manias at once! The facts that Dell and Gold Key are long out of business, at least where comics are concerned, and that Edgar Rice Burroughs Inc seems to have little interest in reprinting much of anything, make it unlikely that the mass amounts of Tarzan comics will ever show up in cheap reprint editions.
I've mentioned in previous posts that my mother collected Tarzan comics, and that she eventually gave her stack of 50 or so issues to me. Over time I've added to that collection, more than doubling it, but there are still quite a few of the Dell issues that I don't have. The Dell/Gold Key run was a little over 200 issues, not counting annuals and specials. I haven't counted recently but I probably have about 125 of them. Unlike my obsession with The Savage Sword of Conan, I'm not rushing to complete the collection. I just look for deals, and when I see them, I snatch them up. I've bought 11 more issues in the last two days. Just got lucky at Ebay and saw someone who had a nice lot at a reasonable price and who wasn't trying to gouge me with shipping.
My best bit of luck came a few years back when I won a couple of Ebay bids and found that the seller of the comics was local. (In Atlanta). I emailed and said I was a fellow Georgia resident and the lady emailed back that she had a bunch more Tarzan comics she hadn't listed and if I wanted I could just buy them rather than her putting them on Ebay. She sent me a list and I bought most of what she had that day. The gems of that lot were all but one issue of Tarzan's Jungle Annual, which were these huge 60 page comics filled with brand new stories. These are some of the most collectible and expensive of the Dell Tarzan's and I got them for a song. The punch line is, the one annual I didn't get, Cliff gave me for Christmas that same year.
So anyway, I'm watching a couple more issues on Ebay right now. Hope I get em.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Reading Report

Let's see, what have I been reading? Finished up volume two of the Collected Letters of Robert E. Howard. Lots and lots of letters to H.P. Lovecraft in this one and more references to Conan than I'd hoped for. Viewed in hindsight there are a lot more clues to Howard's impending suicide as well, including one out of the blue note to a friend asking him to contact certain people in the event of Howard's sudden death. Crime writer Ross MacDonald titled one of his novels The Goodbye Look, theorizing that people who were headed knowingly towards their own demise had a certain look about them. I often think of that in relation to REH.
Re-read School Daze, one of the more solid recent entries in Robert B. Parker's Spenser series. This one profited, I think, from the absences of Spenser's girlfriend Susan Silverman and his primary sidekick, Hawk. Good to see Spenser handling things solo for a change. His constant conversations with Susan get a bit repetitive after a while.
Whitney loaned me a Doctor Who novel called Only Human. I usually stay clear of media tie-in books but this one was a lot of fun. The author, while not a scriptwriter for the Doctor Who series, is a writer for British television and the plot and dialog in this book are pretty close to what one would expect from an episode of the show. His characterizations of The Doctor, Captain Jack Harkness, and Rose Tyler are pretty well done. Speaking of Rose, I had one of my weird dreams the other night where Rose and I were being attacked by three winged demons on top of temple, high above a city something like ancient Mesopotamia. Dunno where the Doctor was, but I could have used some back up. Actually I could have used Conan. I think my genres are getting mixed up again.
Last night I read another Ki-Gor novella, The Devil's Deathtrap. In this one, Ki-Gor runs across the remaining survivors of a race of Gorillas who have human level intelligence. They can talk and they live in a city and of course they are EVIL!! They plan to use their less intelligent brethren to form a great conquering army. Ki-Gor leaps into the fray of course, ending up in an arena where he must face the 800 pound leader of the evil simians in a hand to hand fight to the death.
Ki-Gor's wife Helene gets captured again in this one, but she also saves Ki-Gor's life near the end of the story. Unlike a lot of pulp heroines of the time, Helene is generally pretty capable of taking care of herself. After living with Ki-Gor for years, she can swing through the trees as well as he can, she can outswim him, and she has no problem with snatching up knife, spear, or sword, and wading into battle right beside her jungle lord hubby. And of course she looks really hot in her leopard skin halter and booty shorts. Fiction House was known for their cheesecake covers, both on their pulp magazines and their comic books. Helene is often more prominent on the covers of Jungle Stories than Ki-Gor. There are a couple of covers where Ki-Gor doesn't even appear.
Read a couple more horror short stories by Ramsey Campbell and was again impressed with his originality and his skill at developing mood. I've been spacing the stories out, but I'm coming toward the end of the collection Alone with the Horrors. Wish I'd had this one at Halloween.
Guess that's about it for this edition of the reading report. I think all of these are going to come in handy in January when I make my picks for best books of 2007.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

I just this moment realized that Robert E. Howard and I have the same Zodiac sign, Aquarius. I don't have any belief in Astrology, but I do find that kind of cool.
Trish and I were talking the other night and she put forth the theory that the reason I've been feeling restless and unfocused lately is that I've reached all my goals. I went into to 2007 ready to get some stuff done and pursued those goals with my usual single mindedness. Now the goals have been reached, and I haven't come up with any new ones.
"So what's the next big adventure for you?" Trish asked.
Truthfully I don't know. I've been considering going to tech school to get full Autodesk certification. That's kind of like the holy grail for AutoCad users. Full certification with Autodesk opens all kinds of doors on the job market. Not that I really want to go and get another job right now, but I'd like to have the skills. Plus, I'm thinking down the line I'd like to perhaps become an AutoCad instructor and I'll need the certification for that.
I've also been trying to think of some trips I could take next year and I have an idea or two. All my travel plans for 2007 didn't work out, and I haven't taken a real, honest to gosh vacation in about six years now. Just a few short trips.
Anyway, I'm apparently in an introspective mood this morning as the new year approaches. Just wondering what to do and where to go next...

Charles Cooks Again

I had decided I would try and make some breakfast burritos this morning, so Friday I picked up some soft tortillas from the Spanish Foods section at my local supermarket. Now keep in mind, I had no recipe or anything so I was just winging it. I scrambled some egg beaters and cooked some turkey sausage. I had the tortillas ready and when everything was cooked I ladled eggs into the tortillas, added sausage, a generous portion of shredded Jack and Cheddar cheeses, some black pepper and a spoonful of salsa.
Extremely tasty. I'll be having those again.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Hither Came Conan...

Ah, here we go. Page 329 of the Collected Letters of Robert E. Howard, Volume II. In a letter to H.P. Lovecraft dated April, 1932Howard says:

"I've been working on a new character, providing him with a new epoch_The Hyborian Age which men have forgotten, but which remains in classical names and distorted myths. Wright rejected most of the series, but I did sell him one_'The Phoenix on the Sword,' which deals with the adventures of King Conan the Cimmerian, in the kingdom of Aquilonia."

And there you have it. Conan arrives in the world. "Most of the series" referred to two other stories. The Frost Giant's Daughter and The God in the Bowl. Howard had sent all three at the same time and Farnsworth Wright had rejected two of the trio. It's somewhat interesting to note that "The Phoenix on the Sword" was a rewrite of an earlier Kull story, "By This Axe I Rule", so the first published Conan story was made from a story featuring another Howard character. Neither of the rejected stories would see professional publication in Howard's life time. Frost Giant's Daughter, retitled to Gods of the North appeared in a fanzine, and The God in the Bowl had to wait for the Conan revival of the 1960s to see print. Humble beginnings for what would become Howard's best known character.
Gee, I've been really boring this week. Sorry. It happens.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Weekend Report

I'm at about 80% this morning. This head cold has been very stubborn and just doesn't seem to want to go away. I thought the worst of it was over on Friday, but Saturday it moved back up into my head again and I had two days of nose blowing. That's somewhat better this morning, but it didn't make for a pleasant weekend and I don't feel much rested. Hopefully another couple of days will see the rest of it go away. Oh well, at least I can talk in a normal, if somewhat nasal, voice.
So the weekend was basically a wash. I just lounged around the apartment, reading, watching movies, and surfing the internet. Oh and napping. I can always tell when I'm sick because I actually sleep a lot.
So what did I watch? Well someone loaned me the Transformers movie so I finally watched that. I was impressed with the special effects, but otherwise didn't find the movie too enthralling. I have no nostalgia for those toys since I was too old to play with them when they came out and I didn't watch the cartoons or read the comic books. No connection.
Re-watched Mirrormask, the Neil Gaiman/Dave Mckean fantasy film. I like the movie, though the plot becomes a little thin on repeated viewings. Mckean managed to make the film look like his artwork which is pretty impressive. I noted this time how Mirrormask is almost an updated version of the Wizard of Oz in many ways. A young girl, dissatisfied with her life, dreams her way into a strange land where she must defeat an evil witch and save the land, before returning to her own world and an ambiguous ending that never clearly shows if her journey was a dream or not.
Also re-watched Pitch Black, the independent SF/Horror film that introduced the world to Richard B. Riddick. Pitch Black remains one of my favorite horror movies. The idea of monsters that can only exist in darkness somehow harkens back to childhood fears. As long as you stay in the light, they can't get you. But what if there wasn't any light? The movie also plays with stereotypes and manages to be somewhat unpredictable in terms of who will survive the long night. I wish that the sequel, The Chronicles of Riddick, had done better at the box office so that the third Riddick film would have been produced. Doesn't look good though, from what I hear.
Reading-wise I read some more in the Collected Letters of Robert E. Howard, an entire issue of Ellery Queen's mystery magazine, 500 plus pages of Supergirl reprints in the DC Showcase Supergirl volume, and some more short stories by Ramsey Campbell, Ed Hoch, Robert E. Howard, Fritz Lieber, and others. Oh, and I re-read The People that Time Forgot by Edgar Rice Burroughs.
So anyway, that was the weekend. Hopefully the next one will be a bit more entertaining.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

You know, now that I think of it. Postcards From the Outer Dark is a great story title.

Postcards From the Outer Dark

I'm a little more than 100 pages into the second volume of the Collected Letters of Robert E. Howard, and finding it far more fascinating than volume one. Though I enjoyed the first volume from a biographical standpoint, most of the letters in that book were to Howard's Texas friends and dealt mostly with his day to day life and only had limited information about his writing since he was just beginning to sell to the pulps.That said, toward the end of that volume we do see the beginnings of two of his most famous creations, King Kull and Solomon Kane.
Volume two finds Howard firmly in the land of professional writing. He's selling steadily to Weird Tales and other markets and he's beginning to create some of his other series characters. There are a couple of interesting letters about his "new" character, Turlough Dubh O'Brien, who appears in The Dark Man and the Gods of Bal-Sagoth. He also talks about the story 'The Voice of El-Lil" which he sold to Oriental Stories, the recently established companion magazine to Weird Tales. Howard had great hopes for OS because it was a market for his favorite type of story, historical fiction. There he didn't have to worry about adding any supernatural elements to his stories to sell them to Weird Tales. Unfortunately the magazine was to be short lived.
And this is the volume where Howard begins his famous correspondence with noted horror writer and fellow Weird Tales contributor, H. P. Lovecraft. Howard wrote a glowing letter of praise for Lovecraft's work to WT editor Farnsworth Wright, and Wright forwarded it to Lovecraft, who wrote directly to Howard. Lovecraft was perhaps the world's champion letter writer, reportedly scribbling well over one hundred thousand missives to his various correspondents. I have often wondered what Lovecraft would have done with the internet. He probably would have never left home and simply emailed people all day and his blog would be updated even more than mine.
It's fun to see Howard question Lovecraft about the backgrounds of Cthulhu, the Necronomicon, and other aspects of Lovecraft's stories, only to find that HPL made it all up. There's also a letter where Howard mentions that he'll join the game and start dropping references to Cthulhu and the other Great Old Ones into his own fiction. We're seeing the beginnings of legends here, folks.
It's kind of frustrating to only read half of the correspondences between REH and HPL. I do own a couple of the Arkham House editions of the Letters of H.P. Lovecraft so I know what HPL's responses to some of Howard's letters were, but I'd really like to see someone publish a volume that contained both REH's and HPL's letters. That would be a lot of fun.
Anyway, I know that this volume ends about the time that Howard was creating Conan, so I'm enjoying seeing the seeds that would lead to the big Cimmerian's genesis. Howard is pulling together the strands that would eventually lead him to pioneer his own brand of heroic fantasy and beginning to find his own unique voice as a writer. Great stuff.