Saturday, May 31, 2008

Echoes of Wagner


The late Karl Edward Wagner is probably best known as the creator of the anti-hero Kane and as an author of horror fiction. However Wagner also directed quite a lot of his creative energies toward compiling and editing various anthologies. He was, for many years, the editor of DAW Books Year's Best Horror collections and along with friend David Drake, Wagner created Carcosa Press, a small publishing operation that gathered the works of pulp writers such as Manley Wade Wellman and Hugh B. Cave into hardbound collectible volumes. Wagner was also one of the first to attempt to get completely unedited and unaltered versions of Robert E. Howard's Conan stories back into print. Wagner put together three slim volumes of unadulterated Conan for Berkley/Putnam. These are worth owning purely for Wagner's incisive comments in the forwards to each volume.
In addition to the anthologies mentioned above, Wagner edited three volumes of heroic fantasy (Wagner didn't care for the label sword & sorcery) under the title Echoes of Valor. These three books, often overlooked these days, went a long way toward keeping some of the lesser known classics of heroic fantasy before the eyes of the public. Most of the material in Echoes of Valor is readily available now, thanks to print on demand technology and a renewed interest in the Weird Tales school of fantasy, but in the late 1980s, some of these stories were very difficult, if not impossible to come by. Wagner, who at one time owned a complete collection of Weird Tales pulp magazines and many other pulps, was in a unique position to edit and compile these collections.
Wagner knew his audience and he also knew the power of the name Robert E. Howard. Wagner made use of the drawing power of Conan and his creator on the cover of all three volumes. Volume one contains the first ever reprinting of the unedited version of REH's The Black Stranger. I've talked about the Black Stranger in another post, explaining how it was rewritten as The Treasure of Tranicos by L. Sprague De Camp. The original version had been rejected by Weird Tales and REH had made an attempt at rewriting it as a pirate yarn featuring his swashbuckling hero, Black Vulmea. That one failed to sell as well. Apparently a truncated version of the Conan story was published in 1953 in Fantasy Magazine. The Echoes of Valor version was prepared by Wagner from a photocopy of Howard's original manuscript and published in the complete and unaltered form in 1987. Wagner rounded out that first volume of Echoes with novellas by Fritz Lieber and Henry Kuttner.
Echoes of Valor II leads off with the two versions of The Frost Giant's Daughter. Frost Giant is another Conan story rejected by Weird Tales editor Farnsworth Wright. Later, Howard allowed a slightly different version, called The Frost King's Daughter and featuring a hero named Amra of Akbitana, to be published in the amateur magazine (fanzine) The Fantasy Fan. There aren't really many differences between the two stories and Wagner points this out. However, when L. Sprague Decamp printed The Frost Giant's Daughter for the Gnome Conan edition and later for Lancer and Ace, it was a heavily edited and rewritten version. The version used in Echoes of Valor is exactly how REH wrote it. Before the recent Del Rey Editions of all of Howard's Conan stories were available, it was very difficult to come by unedited Conan. Wagner was performing a valuable service to heroic fantasy fans.
However EoV volume two has far more to offer than Frost Giant's Daughter. It is a veritable treasure trove of material by and about that other sword & sorcery pioneer, C. L. Moore. The book contains the (at that time) very rare Jirel of Joiry story Quest of the Star Stone, in which Jirel teams up with Moore's other series character Northwest Smith. In 1989 that story had only been reprinted one other time since 1937, and that was in Lin Carter's hardback anthology Realms of Wizardry. EoV II also contains rare Northwest Smith stories, a brief autobiography by Moore, and articles and remembrances by Moore's friends and collaborators. Even if you own the new Paizo Jirel and Northwest Smith collections, if you're a fan of C. L. Moore's you need this book. But wait. There's more! EoV II also has Lorelei of the Red Mist by Leigh Brackett and a very young Ray Bradbury, and a Manly Wade Wellman story about his caveman hero Hok.
Volume three contains 'The Shadow of the Vulture', the single Robert E. Howard story to feature Red Sonya with a 'Y', who was the soul and inspiration for Marvel Comics' Red Sonja with a 'J'. It was Sonya of Rogatino a16th century adventuress who influenced writer Roy Thomas in his creation of Red Sonja, the Hyborian Age 'She-Devil with a sword.' Wagner gives a brief introduction explaining the differences between the two Sonjas.
It also feature another Hok tale by Wellman, a novella by Jack Williamson, three stories by Nictzin Dyalhis, and the only two Prince Raynor stories by Henry Kuttner. The invaluable Paizo has recently reprinted all the Raynor and Elak of Atlantis stories in one volume, but prior to that, Echoes of valor was one of the few places where readers of heroic fantasy could find theses tales by Kuttner. Ultimately I think that's what made the Echoes series so amazing and important for its time. Karl Edward Wagner loved the genre and he went to quite a bit of effort to resurrect and re-present these stories, which are some of the earliest and most influential tales of heroic fantasy.
So why were there no more than three volumes of Echoes of Valor? Wagner wanted to do more, but according to fellow heroic fantasy enthusiast Morgan Holmes, "Echoes of Valor didn't do too well. Karl Wagner told me he wanted to do volumes 4 & 5. It didn't help there was a big gap between books. The books didn't sell well but anthologies generally don't. I remember seeing #3 at one of those book sales where overstock would be sold for a month in empty store space in a shopping plaza."
But as I've mentioned above, virtually all the stories I've talked about here are back in print and available, proving that Karl Edward Wagner was, as usual, ahead of his time. The things you don't get in these new reprints though are the editorial comments and scholarship of Mr. Wagner, and those are well worth having. All three volumes of Echoes of Valor pop up on Ebay, AbeBooks, and Amazon. Track them down. You'll be glad you did.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Complete Kirby


DC Comics is trying hard to be my best friend. Cliff tells me that after the success of their four volume Jack Kirby's Fourth World Omnibus series, they are now going to publish companion volumes of the rest of Kirby's DC output from the 1970s. They released the complete OMAC last night in the same format as the Fourth World books and next up is the complete Demon. Jack's brief run on the World War Two comic The Losers probably wasn't long enough to fill a hardback book (The OMAC book is pretty slim.) but hopefully they'll put together a volume of odds and ends so we can get The Losers, Sandman, The Avenger, Richard Dragon Kung Fu Fighter (Yes, Jack drew one issue.) and the various one offs Kirby did for First Issue Special such as Atlas and Manhunter. Of special interest is the kid gang series The Dingbats of Danger Street. Only one story appeared in First Issue Special, but reportedly Jack had drawn two more issues. I wonder if DC has stats for those. I've seen some original art from Dingbats #2 over the years.
Kamandi: The Last Boy on Earth, the longest running and my personal favorite of Kirby's DC books, is a slight problem for the reprint series because DC has already printed two hardback volumes of Kamandi in their DC Archives series. They're not sure how the public would react if they did a Kamandi series in the Fourth World format, because they'd either have to suspend the Archives series, which would doubtless upset some collectors, or publish the same reprints in two different formats. Personally I'd quit buying the Archives and switch to the other format in a heartbeat if they started over from issue one of Kamandi. I'd really like to have all the DC Kirby material in matching volumes.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Something Different

I stayed up too late last night reading Dean Koontz's Forever Odd. It isn't that the book is that compelling. It's good and I'm enjoying it, but not in the way that I've stayed up later reading other books. What it is, is different.
After almost 40 years of fiction reading, I think I've become somewhat jaded, particularly in my genre reading. Hard to get excited about just another mystery or just another fantasy. Seems like I've seen it all before, and while certain authors can still write with enough panache to hold my attention, the list gets smaller every year.
But I have noticed that the books that I have enjoyed most in the last couple of years have had one thing in common and that's that they have nothing in common. I am looking for something different it seems. Doesn't even have to be new. Just different. Take Jack Vance's Dying Earth, first published in 1950. Never read a fantasy like it. Or the first of James Patterson's Maximum Ride books. An original point of view in a different kind of story.
The Odd Thomas books don't fit into the rest of Dean Koontz's output. I mentioned in a previous post that all of his earlier books had begun to feel the same to me. The plots, characters, and situations had a certain sameness after a while. Odd Thomas, with his disarmingly genuine narration and his faith in his friends and in life in general makes for a very different kind of protagonist. And of course his ability to see the dead, though not to actually speak with them, makes for some interesting developments.
Of course there are four Odd books out now, with a projected seven according to a recent interview with Koontz. I have to wonder how many of them I'll read before they too begin to seem too similar. I will say this. So far, about two thirds of the way through Forever Odd, the plot of this one is absolutely nothing like the plot of Odd Thomas, the first book in the series. If Koontz can keep that up, maybe I'll make it through all seven books without them becoming tired and too familiar. Guess we'll see.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Long Weekend Report

I spent most of the long weekend the way I had intended, which was just goofing off and relaxing. I read a lot. I watched some DVDs. I went book shopping. I had some pizza. I visited with Bruce and Amelia. I tried very hard not to do anything constructive, though I did have to do some laundry and straighten the apartment up a bit. Overall it was a nice weekend.
One of the things I did was to begin reading my way through the four volume Jack Kirby's Fourth World series. I've mentioned the books before, but basically this was DC Comics taking all of the stories Jack did for New Gods, Mr. Miracle, Jimmy Olsen, and The Forever People and compiling them in chronological order. It had been a couple of decades since I had read most of these comics and I'd never read them in the order Jack had intended. I got through volumes one, two, and three over the four day weekend. More about that later.
I made a couple of nice finds at the used bookstores. Got Heroic Fantasy, a 70s anthology of sword & sorcery compiled by a couple of local SF/Fantasy buffs, Gerald W. Page and the late Hank Reinhardt. More about that later too. Also found a nice copy of The Fantastic Swordsmen, a 1967 sword & sorcery anthology edited by L. Sprague de Camp. I already had a copy but this one was in much better shape. Ah, the collector's mind.
I watched Cloverfield but I already talked about that.
I played Lord of the Rings Online a good bit. I'm at level 33 now and closing on 34. The higher you get, the harder it becomes to level up. I did get some new armor and some slightly more powerful weapons.
I had a nice, leisurely breakfast at the Three Bears Cafe on the Marietta Square Sunday morning.
I started reading Forever Odd, the second of Dean Koontz's books about Odd Thomas, the fry cook who can see the recently deceased. Within the first twenty pages I was once again caught up in Odd's world. The ghost of a local cardiologist appears in Odd's bedroom. He's just been savagely murdered and his son, a childhood friend of Odd's, has been kidnapped. Odd hurries to the site of the murder just in time to almost become a victim himself. Soon, Odd is on the trail with the help of the town police chief and the restless spirit of Elvis Presley. I read about a quarter of the book at a sitting. Go Dean.
I also read several short stories by Manly Wade Wellman, and yes, more about that later as well. Apparently the weekend was good for accumulating subjects for blog posts...

Monday, May 26, 2008

Cloverfield

Finally got around to watching this one last night. I'll give it a fair. I can remember when I heard the concept of the film, basically a Godzilla movie shot from the POV of the man in the street, that I thought it a cool idea. That element holds up. The shaky camera work is a little annoying at first but once I got used to it, it works well.
Of course it also holds up the one big problem with the basic "believability" of the film which is that no one, and I mean NO ONE would keep filming through all the events that happened to the characters in this movie. I'm thinking particularly of the scene in the subway tunnel where the dog size spider-like parasites that travel on the body of the main monster are attacking the guy with the camera and he keeps filming them even as he's trying to defend himself from them. Oh yeah, that would happen. But, this is the one thing you have to believe or the whole film doesn't work, so we're just gonna let that one pass.
Overall I think the movie makers succeeded in their aim to make the viewer feel disoriented and worried. You never really find out what was going on. And until the end of the movie you don't get a good look at the monster, so that works. I mean, if you were in Atlanta when Godzilla attacked, you'd probably never get a really good look at him from street level.
I wasn't too thrilled with the ending as it looks like the main characters died, and I hate that in a film. However, as my pal Lanny pointed out, they aren't actually shown dying. They could have dug themselves out of the rubble from the final bomb blasts and simply not found their camera. Up to the viewer I guess.
Anyway, not a great movie, but an interesting experiment. I almost wish they had told the same story, but shot it from a standard third person POV. But then I guess you'd lose the immediacy and the feeling of being part of the action.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Four Day Weekend

Looking forward to a four day weekend this week. Got Memorial Day off so I figured I'd take Friday as well and get a long weekend out of the deal. Longtime readers of this blog have probably noticed that I always try to take advantage of Monday holidays in this fashion. We only work half days on Fridays at my job so it works out. Four hours of vacation plus holiday equals Four Day Weekend.
Basically I don't take a lot of full vacation days. I tend to take half days. A lot of this has to do with the fact that I don't particularly enjoy sleeping in, so being off in the mornings holds little attraction for me. I figure I might as well go in to work, put in four or five hours and take the afternoon off. That way I still get the better part of the day and my vacation time lasts twice as long.
Now obviously if I actually travel somewhere I take entire days, but I'm rarely gone from work more than three days in a row. I usually plan my vacations to partially include a weekend. It's not that I'm such a dependable employee, it's just that it saves vacation time I might want to use for something else.

Now With More Conan


I decided that as the only barbarian in Middle Earth, Kharrn (my avatar in Lord of the Rings Online) needed a more Conan-ish haircut, so I sent him to the barber in Bree. The guy couldn't manage a square cut mane ala Frazetta so I went with the classic Barry Smith style.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Weekend Report

Not a bad weekend. Met my pal Brian for lunch at Taco Mac on Friday and had our usual conversations about books, games, movies, and life in general. Only get to see Brian every couple of weeks these days so nice to catch up.
Saturday I went down to visit Trish's cats since Trish was away for the weekend. I stopped by Marietta Booknook on my way and had one nice find, a very good copy of the 1965 anthology The Spell of Seven. This was L. Sprague Decamp's follow up to his 1963 volume Swords and Sorcery and contains short stories by such sword & sorcery greats as Fritz Leiber, Michael Moorcock, and of course, Robert E. Howard. There was only one story in the book that I didn't have in another collection, but I still wanted this one because it's an important early collection of sword & sorcery fiction. I can't agree with all of De Camp's choices since I don't think of Lord Dunsany or Clark Ashton Smith as sword & sorcery writers, but the definition of the genre was still pretty loose back in the day. Actually it's still pretty loose now. I need to write an essay about that soon.
I also picked up the alternate cover edition of John Jakes's Mention My Name in Atlantis that I talked about in the previous post, an H.P. Lovecraft paperback collection I hadn't seen before, Brother Odd, the third of Dean Koontz's Odd Thomas books, and a battered copy of Stephen King's Eyes of the Dragon.
Then I went over to Trish's place and checked on the cats. Bruce was as thrilled to see me as ever and didn't leave my side while I hung around. Amelia was civil, allowing herself to be petted before doing her Greta Garbo act. I hung out for a couple of hours and then headed back to my place, where I worked hard at leveling up in Lord of the Rings Online. I'm this close to level 31 out of a possible 50, so I'm getting up there. Teamed up with some nice folks and did a couple of fairly difficult quests. I've also changed Kharrn's haircut so I'll have to post new pics. yes, you can visit a barber while you're in Bree.
Sunday was fairly low key. I re-read the Michael Moorcock Elric short, Kings in Darkness, then I finished up the book Lovecraft at Last which Cliff had loaned me. I can't say much about this one that Cliff hasn't already said over at his blog, but I will say that it was a very moving book and I feel that I have a much better understanding of H.P. Lovecraft as a human being. Highly recommended.
As noted earlier, I had a lot of strange dreams over the weekend, but none really stayed with me. No more visits with Sonny Bono. That's pretty much all I have to report. I have a few adventures planned for the near future, but I'll talk more about that later.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Truth in Advertising...


I found a copy of John Jakes's humorous fantasy novel, Mention My Name in Atlantis with a different cover than the copy I already owned. I almost laughed out loud there in the used bookstore because I knew immediately why the second cover had been done and for that matter when. See, up until the mid 1970s, Jakes was best known as an author of science fiction and fantasy and as the creator of Brak the Barbarian. That all changed with the publication of Jakes's Bicentennial series, The Kent Family Chronicles. You know the ones. The Bastard, The Rebels, The Seekers etc. Look closely at the covers for The Seekers and the new Mention My Name in Atlantis. Think the marketing folks at DAW were hoping some rabid Jakes fans might shell out the bucks for Atlantis, thinking it somehow connected to the Kent series?

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Jungle Lords and Dinosaurs


The ever amazing Bill Hillman is running another superb Tarzan adventure by Russ Manning over at ERBzine. Tarzan's back in the lost land of Pal-U-Don and that means dinosaurs, action, and more dinosaurs. Jane's even along this time. Check it out.

http://www.erbzine.com/mag21/2127.html

I had a lot of strange dreams last night, none of which I remember very well, but one moment stands out as just plain bizarre. I was walking with someone through a cafeteria of some sort, and as I passed one of the tables I noticed that the man sitting there eating lunch was Sonny Bono. He looked as he had back in the days of the Sonny and Cher show, long mustache and all. As I passed I nodded, and said, "Hi Sonny."
He grinned and said, "Hi Charles. "
I don't remember anything else about the dream, but I think this fits in well with Beth's miniature hippo dream...

Friday, May 16, 2008

The Dreams in the Witch House

I have often heard horror writer H.P. Lovecraft's prose described as labyrinthine or elaborate, and I'll have to admit that sometimes ole HPL did have a tendency to run on. He was also perhaps a bit overly fond of the words eldritch, gibbous, and squamous. But generally, I think folks making those claims simply haven't read that much Lovecraft. He had more than one style of writing and he varied it from tale to tale. I thought of this the other night when I was reading the Lovecraft story The Dreams in the Witch House, which is written in a fairly straightforward style, without many of the byzantine flourishes that HPL's critics so love to point out.
The story is also generally considered one of HPL's weaker efforts, but I rather enjoyed it. It's the story of college student Walter Gilman, a young man with an unhealthy interest in the occult, who takes a room in a house thought to have once been occupied by a witch. The witch, Keziah Mason, disappeared from a jail cell back in the 1600s apparently by using her knowledge of interdimensional geometry to cross over into another dimension. Gilman's room, which is the very one the witch occupied, has oddly angled walls that eventually allow Gilman to find his own way into other planes of existence. Of course, this being an H.P. Lovecraft story, that doesn't bode too well for Mr. Gilman. Seems old Keziah is still around.
This story, like much of Lovecraft's work, falls somewhere between horror and science fiction, because while it is very creepy and filled with horrific imagery, it also contains quite a bit of speculation about dimensions outside the three we know and the mathematics required to get there. Its strongest moments though, are probably when Gilman enters the dreamlike worlds of the other dimensions. Here Lovecraft is in his element, describing the strange, chaotic vistas in a way that seems almost believable. Lovecraft had the ability to make you believe that he had been to the weird places he writes about. I think that's one of the reasons his work has remained popular and in print for so long. He may be a little hard to follow sometimes, but he delivers the goods.
The out and out creepiest bit in the story to me was Keziah's familiar, Brown Jenkin, described as being about the size and form of a large rat, but having an almost human face and hands. The creature steals into the hapless Gilman's room in the night for sinister purposes, its long yellow canines gleaming in the half light. Later, Keziah and Brown Jenkin appear to Gilman in a strange violet light, which Gilman initially thinks is part of a dream, but in a particularly chilling moment, one of the other borders in the house mentions seeing the light in Gilman's window late at night.
Anyway, the story gave me a couple of decent shudders, and reminds me of why I like to read Lovecraft. As modern horror writers like Stephen King and Ramsey Campbell have noted, Lovecraft remains the most important and influential writer of horror fiction since Edgar Alan Poe. Considering that 'Dreams' was originally published in the July 1933 issue of Weird Tales and can still be read and enjoyed today, I think that's a good sign of the staying power of the dark visions of H.P. Lovecraft.

Got My Number

So I was exploring a bit in Lord of the Rings Online, just crossing some areas on the map where I hadn't been and I came across this fortress occupied by a bunch of bad guys, but they were all fairly low level, so low that they didn't aggro at all when I walked by. (For you non gamers, that means that they didn't immediately attack me when I got within 10 virtual feet of them.)
I happened to be chatting with some folks on the OOC (out of character) channel and I said, "Any of you ever wander into an area that you obviously should have visited earlier in the game?"
One of the other players said, "Yeah, you probably just missed a quest somewhere."
Another said, "That's happened to me several times."
I said, "Oh well, might as well kill everyone while I'm here."
There was a long pause, then the first player said, "I think you should be playing Age of Conan."

Heh heh. Yeah.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008


Just to show you that some celebs are good sports, here's a picture of me and Gandalf. The big G was kind enough to pose for a few snaps after sending me out on a quest.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Iron Man

Saw Iron Man on Saturday and really enjoyed it. I thought it probably the best superhero movie since the first Spiderman film. The first part of the movie is a reasonably accurate version of the character's comic book origin, though updated of course. The rest of the movie is an up and at em action film with some eye popping special effects. Someone pointed out that I'm less critical of this film than I have been of other superhero movies. I've been recommending it with very few qualifications.
I think that's because it didn't really matter to me. See I was never a big Iron Man fan. Rarely read the comic and had no real attachment to the character. I knew who he was and what his origin was, and I had occasionally read his adventures over the years, enough to get most of the in-jokes in the movie, but overall I didn't have any of the emotional investment that I had in Spiderman, who is one of my favorite characters or Superman who IS my favorite character. And for the record, I hated the new Superman film.
But with Iron Man it was kind of nice not to be the arbiter of comic book accuracy and to be able to just sit back and enjoy the movie. The cast is A-list with Gwyneth Paltrow and Jeff Bridges. Robert Downey Jr. did an excellent job of playing Iron Man's alter ego Tony Stark. I thought the actress who played the reporter was a lot hotter than Gwyneth, but that's just personal preference.
So yeah, I loved Iron Man. Go see it. And if you're a comics fan be sure and stay until the end credits have rolled for a special surprise. Of course if you're a fan I probably don't have to tell you to do that.

Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle


The latest entry in my re-reading of Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan novels is Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle. In this one, Tarzan finds yet another lost civilization, this time populated by the descendants of shipwrecked crusaders who were washed up on the shores of Africa in the 1100s. Two ships worth of knights and, rather inexplicably, their wives, ended up setting up two cities at opposite ends of a hidden valley. By the logic created by author H. Rider Haggard (King Solomon's Mines, She) the descendants of the crusaders are still living exactly as their ancestors had, and thus the valley is a medieval time capsule filled with castles and knights and the like. (Hey, it was easier to believe stuff like this in 1928 when the book was originally published.)
The book is a little odd in that Tarzan is almost a guest star in his own novel. The middle section of the book is taken up with the adventures of James Hunter Blake, a young American who becomes separated from his safari and wanders into the lost valley of the Sepulcher, where he is taken prisoner by the knights of the city of Nimmr. Blake soon wins his freedom by convincing the locals that he is a wandering knight templar from a far off land and then gets down to some Connecticut Yankee style adventures, winning a tourney with his knowledge of modern fencing and impressing the other knights with his chivalrous behavior. He also falls immediately in love with the princess Guinalda, daughter of the ruler of Nimmr. Burroughs loved a good romantic sub plot. There are actually two in this book.
Meanwhile, Tarzan, who is searching for the missing Blake, has run afoul of a band of shiftas, (Arab slave traders) and has the usual Tarzan style adventures, fighting lions and rogue apes as well. It's only in the last 50 or so pages that the ape-man actually catches up with Blake in the Valley of the Sepulcher and gets in on the jousting and the riding and the swordfighting and the nice lady. A word here about the cover illo pictured with this review. I chose the cover to the Gold Key Comics adaptation of LotJ because that's the first place I ever encountered the story and because it gives a better feel for the color and excitement of the novel than the cover of the 1963 paperback edition I own, which is rather subdued. No scene exactly like this appears in the book. Tarzan does fight knights on horseback but he's wearing armor and he wins his only joust in a method a bit different than shown here. But isn't it a nifty cover?
The title is sort of a triple pun, because Tarzan is actually an English Lord as well as being the Lord of the Jungle and when the knights of Nimmr ask him his rank, he replies, "A viscount," and is thereafter known as Lord Tarzan in the valley of the Sepulcher.
Anyway, Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle is one of the best of the mid range Tarzan novels. It is absolutely jammed full of excitement and adventure. Burroughs really seemed to enjoy writing about the knightly milieu and goes to great lengths describing the clothing and armor and the pomp and pageantry of the medieval tournaments. There are battles galore and rescues and escapes and true love and the triumph of good over evil and even a guest appearance by Jad-bal-ja, the Golden Lion. And of course, Tarzan of the Apes. What more could you want?

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Mother's Day


Been out for breakfast with my parents, my brother and his family, for Mother's Day. We ate at the IHOP in Woodstock, which is usually pretty good, but this morning the pancakes were heavy and rubbery. Didn't matter. We still had a good time.
I gave mom the DVD of the 1959 Disney film Darby O'Gill and the Little People. This was the first movie in which mom saw Sean Connery and he has been her ideal man ever since. I can remember being scared stiff by the "death coach" in Darby O'Gill when I saw the film in re-release when I was a wee lad. The spectral coach with its ghostly driver, sent to carry off the souls of the dead, was very creepy to a four year old. Actually, the concept is still pretty creepy, because you got to figure, ole man Death will gladly stop for you.
Anyway, mom was very pleased with the gift, so I did good. Now I'm home, trying to figure out what I want to do for the rest of the day.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Virtual Me


This is Kharrn the Barbarian. He's adventuring in Middle Earth where they don't actually have a barbarian class, so he puts up with being called a Champion. But trust me and Mr. T, Kharrn's a barbarian. Note the steely gaze and the rugged stubble.

For Jeri. My House at #3 Waterbank Road.

Kharrn takes a break from killing, by the fire.

One For Lanny

humorous pictures
more cat pictures

Weekend Report

When you're used to having a three day weekend every week, a two day weekend seems remarkably short. I mentioned that I had a class on Friday, which meant that instead of being out of work by 10:00 am as I usually am, I was stuck inside until 4:00 that afternoon.
Saturday I headed up to Canton to visit my grandmother at the assisted living facility. Turned out that it was the anniversary of the place and they were having a party and a bunch of my relatives showed up. I ended up staying longer than I'd planned, mostly because of parking problems, but I did enjoy talking to my cousin and one of my aunts whom I seldom see.
Saturday afternoon I tried to just chill and ended up watching Tarzan's New York Adventure. It's one of those comfort movies for me. Something I remember from childhood and know by heart. It's kind of fun to see Johnny Weissmuller's version of Tarzan try and make his way through civilization. In the end of course, it's his jungle wisdom and his way with elephants that save the day. Even circus elephants know Tarzan it seems.
Got up early Sunday and went back to the Three Bears Cafe for breakfast. Excellent as always. Then I headed over to borders. I bought Tales of the Dying Earth, which collects all four of Jack Vance's Dying Earth books into one volume. Don't plan on reading the others anytime soon. I've learned it's not a good idea to read too many of an authors books back to back as it tends to blunt the effectiveness of the writers intent. I'll save those for dry spells in reading material.
Also picked up Terry Brooks' The Wishsong of Shannara. After reading the first two chapters of the book in the back of the Shannara graphic novel (which is a sequel of sorts) a few weeks back, I decided to give Wishsong a try. Read about 100 pages of it yesterday afternoon. It gets off to a fast start, as most of Brooks books do. It's odd, but whenever I mention I'm reading one of the Shannara books, someone always asks "Didn't he rip off the Lord of the Rings in his first book?"
I haven't read Sword of Shannara, so I can't say for sure, but that's what I've been told. I've also been told, by folks who know, that a lot of that can be laid at the feet of editor Lester Del Rey, who had made up his mind to show that a fantasy could hit the bestseller list and took the work of a first time novelist and shaped it and promoted it to the top of the list. Of the six or seven Shannara books that I've read, none really owe any more to J.R.R. Tolkien than the works of other fantasy writers like Raymond Fiest, Bob Salvatore, Robert Jordan, etc. But a lot of people just can't seem to get past the stigma of that first book. (I used to be one of those people.) Brooks is aware of it and talks a good bit about it in his non fiction book, Sometimes the Magic Works.
Basically the Shannara books are adventure yarns set in a D&D style world. Brooks is much less interested in world building and fantasy than he is in battles and monsters and escapes and pursuits. Not a lot of literary value, but a good sort of book to pass the time, much like watching action movies or many television shows.
Anyway, the weekend was pretty pleasant even though it seemed a bit short. And now it's back to the real world.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Still the King


2008 continues to be a banner year for fans of legendary comic book artist Jack Kirby. It's seen the completion of DC Comics hardback collections of Kirby's Fourth World books and the release of Mark Evanier's long awaited biography of the King. Now TwoMorrows Publishing has released Kirby Five-Oh! the fiftieth issue of their wonderful magazine the Kirby Collector.
Though John Morrow goes to great lengths to assure you that K50 is a magazine, it looks more like an oversize paperback book with its square spine and its hefty page count. But what it really is is a celebration. A massive volume absolutely stuffed full of Jack Kirby art and articles.
There are features such as Kirby's 50 Greatest Covers, (Most of which I agreed with) Kirby's 50 Greatest Character designs, (Less of which I agreed with but they were still nifty.) and a series of 50 tributes by people influenced by Kirby, including artists such as Steve Rude and Jim Steranko, and writers like Glen David Gold and Pulitzer winner, Michael Chabon.
But mostly there is the art. Page after page of Kirby pencils reproduced at tabloid size. I've looked through those pages half a dozen times since Wednesday and they still hit me with the force of an uppercut every time. Nobody's ever matched the sheer power that Kirby put on a page. There's spot art galore, but there's also a 50 page gallery of pulse pounding pencils (As Stan Lee might say.) that covers most of Kirby's major series and a few minor ones as well. New Gods, Fantastic Four, Kamandi, the Hulk, Captain Victory, Mr. Miracle, Forever People, Captain America, OMAC, The Losers, The Mighty Thor, 2001, Machine Man, The Demon, The Silver Surfer, and on and on.
Plus there are tons of photos (Jack at work. Jack at home. Jack at Conventions. Jack with his grandchildren. Jack with fans.) and a color section in the middle that reproduces some of Jack's water color illustrations and a few of his amazing collages. Magazine or not, this may be the best Kirby retrospective I've seen, and I've seen em all. Go out and buy a copy right now, or as Jack might say, "Don't Ask. Just Buy an Read! If your survive the action, you'll groove with the plot!"
Okay, so his syntax was a little funky. It doesn't matter. He's still the King.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Stolen from Beth
You're feeling: Reasonably content.

To your left: Bookshelf.

On your mind: Class I have tomorrow. Short story I want to write.

Last meal included: Raisin bran.

You sometimes find it hard to: Sleep.

The weather: Sunny today. Rainy all weekend.

Something you have a collection of: Gee, a lot of things. We'll say Conan books.

A smell that cheers you up: Fresh laundry.

A smell that can ruin your mood: Cigarette smoke.

How long since you last shaved: This morning.

The current state of your hair: About a quarter inch deep.

The largest item on your desk/workspace (not computer): Dictionary.

Your skill with chopsticks: Highly skilled but I don't like them.

Which section to head for first in a bookstore: Mystery.

Something you're craving: Pizza.

Your general thoughts on the presidential race: Have to choose the best of the worst. Again.

Favorite place to go for a quiet moment: My place.

You've always secretly thought you'd be a good: Reporter.

Something that freaks you out a little: How swiftly time seems to be passing.

Something you've eaten too much of lately: Pizza.

You have never: Had an alcoholic beverage.

You never want to: Let my friends down.

Back On Track

Well, after three weeks of being back on the eating for weight loss plan, I've dropped back to the notch in my belt that I'd outgrown, so stage one is done. Comfortably back in the pants size I worked so hard to get to. Now to try and drop another size. The addition of the low carb tortillas to my arsenal has been amazingly helpful since it basically allows me to make sandwich type meals. Roast beef wraps. Tuna wraps. Turkey bacon wraps. All tasty, all high in protein and low in fat, carbs, and calories.
I've been experimenting with sauces for the low fat/low carb spaghetti too. I've tried ground turkey, turkey sausage, and various mixes of vegetables in sauces so far. (I could make vegetarian spaghetti no problem, Beth.)
Basically weight loss isn't much of a problem if you can find enough tasty stuff to eat. If you have to deny yourself everything, you'll eventually fall off the wagon. When people ask how I lost so much weight now, I tell them to find things they actually like to eat that fit their dietary needs. All the stuff I'm eating now is stuff I'd eat even if I wasn't trying to shed a few pounds. Really helps with the maintenance too. It took me six months to lose 50 pounds and I only regained about 8 of those pounds in the next six months, and most of that was just eating out a few too many times.
The other thing is to eat a lot of small meals. That really does seem to help. I had organic raisin bran for breakfast. I'll have a power bar about 9:00. Some fat free yogurt and some fruit about 11:00. Maybe a pear around 2:00. I'll have dinner at 5:30. Thinking that may be an omelet and turkey sausage. Then some fat free pudding at 8:00 or so. That will be between 1200 and 1400 calories for the day which is the range I shoot for. Never less than 1200 and never more than 1400. One meal a week I eat anything I want. That's usually two slices of pizza at Mellow Mushroom on Mondays. The scary thing is, that's almost over my daily calorie limit right there. Pizza with pepperoni is about 600 calories A SLICE. Yikes.
What all of this does is allow me to lose about 2 pounds a week, which is a safe, steady rate. I could lose it faster, but probably not in as healthy a fashion.