Sunday, November 30, 2008

Giving Back

My mom called me the other night seeking help which I was particularly qualified to give. Through her church she was supplying Christmas gifts for an underprivileged young person. Clothes, toys, etc. On his wish list he had asked for SF/Fantasy books. Mom wanted to know if I wanted to take care of that part of his list. Well of course I did.
I went out this morning and bought an assortment. I picked up Magician Apprentice by Raymond Fiest. I think Fiest is the best guy working in the Tolkien tradition right now. Fast paced and well written, with an appealing young hero. Got The Wish Song of Shannara by Terry Brooks for much the same reasons. Traditional fantasy with lots of heroics and derring do. And it's a self contained story. Not part of a trilogy. Shifted gears a bit and got Fool Moon, one of Jim Butcher's Harry Dresden books. Don't know what the kid might like so I figured I'd get him something different. Also got S.M. Stirling's The Sky People, which was a recent SF novel that I enjoyed. Then David Webber's Oath of Swords, which straddles a line between fantasy and SF. Finally got the standard size paperback edition of Beyond the Black River, which is a collection of Robert E. Howard stories with three Conan yarns and a couple of other tales. I managed to restrain my own tastes for the most part. but there's no way I could pass up giving a 12 year old boy at least a sampling of REH. Overall I think I did well not throwing in Lovecraft, Smith, Burroughs, and Lieber. Anyway, I hope the kid enjoys the books. Not used books but brand new paperbacks that are his and his alone. Would have made my Christmas at age 12 for sure.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Not Quite What I Expected.


A couple of years ago I saw this cover for a 1965 issue of Tarzan and I thought, "Wow, that must be some story. Giant wasps and frozen Romans, Vikings, etc."
So I bid on that issue several times on Ebay and someone always seemed to outbid me at the last minute. The other night the issue popped up again and I bid on it and this time I won. So today I finally got to read the issue and I was rather disappointed. See, back in the 60s, comics were notorious for featuring scenes on the cover that didn't actually occur in the story within. This is sort of what happened here. There are giant wasps, but they aren't as big as the ones on the cover, and there are frozen Romans, etc, but Tarzan doesn't fight them in the cave and in fact, only one Roman is actually thawed out, not a whole legion like on the cover. This is one of those times when the cover is waaaaay better than the story inside.
So anyway, now I'm thinking maybe I should write a story that actually fits that cover. I could use my Tarzan stand-in, Rakar the Jungle Lord. I'm thinking of calling it "Rakar and the Cavern of Time." Sounds nice and pulpish. Anyway, we'll see if I can actually think of a story that does the cover justice.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Jack Kirby's The Demon


I didn't buy The Demon comic book back when it originally ran in the early 1970s. I hadn't yet reached my obsession with the work of Jack Kirby and I didn't feel the need to own every comic he produced. Also it was a (or I perceived it as) a horror comic. Not my cup of tea at age 10 or so. I was a big fan of The Demon's companion series Kamandi: The Last Boy on Earth. But that's a post for another time.
Over the years I never quite managed to amass a complete run of The Demon. I would buy the comic if I spotted it at conventions, but it wasn't something I went actively looking for. As a result I ended up with eleven issues out of the sixteen issue run.
DC Comics' latest release in their Jack Kirby Omnibus series is a nice, heavy, hardcover book containing all sixteen issues of The Demon. And of course the best thing about it for me, is that there are five issues of the comic that are new to me. New Kirby art. New Kirby concepts. New Kirby! I'd forgotten how much I loved to see new things spiral out of Jack's imagination. His incredibly creative mind is just one of the things that made and keeps him the King of Comics.
A good example would be issue six's villain, The Howler. This is Jack's take on the werewolf legend, but of course it gets the Kirby spin. The bestial baddie isn't someone bitten and cursed by a werewolf. No he's actually possessed by a primal beast spirit. Look at how the Howler is portrayed on the cover. Not the lean Bernie Wrightson sort of werewolf, but instead a massive creature of terrifying strength and power.
In case you're not familiar with the series, The Demon is Etrigan, a demon summoned by Merlin back in the days of Camelot to aid the wizard in his struggle with Morgan Le Fey. After the fall of Camelot, Merlin disguises the demon by giving him human form as the ageless Jason Blood. Blood lives through the centuries awaiting Merlin's return. When we catch up with him in the 1970s, Blood is a (what else?) demonologist and collector of occult relics. When a horribly aged, but still dangerous Morgan Le Fey appears in the present, Merlin shows up too and calls in his demonic servant.
Kirby used the series to run his own riffs on classic monsters like Frankenstein, The Phantom of the Opera, and werewolves, but he also created his own supernatural menaces. I read through the entire volume over the weekend and was very impressed with Jack's handling of a supernatural book, not his usual thing. There are a couple of truly chilling concepts and Etrigan himself is actually pretty creepy. He's as ruthless as you'd expect a demon to be, killing his enemies with glee.
The character of the demon has remained a favorite of artists and writers who have followed Kirby. He's shown up numerous times over the years in other DC comics, including a recent series by John Byrne and appearances on various Warner Brothers cartoon series. Etrigan was probably best served in Alan Moore's Swamp Thing, where he is portrayed as a more classical demon figure. And I have to wonder how much effect Kirby's Demon had om Mike Mignola's Hellboy.
Anyway, after reading the entire series, I now think that this is one of Kirby's most underrated books. The Demon is one of his best written series. And now you can have it all in one hardcover book. Next up in the series is, I beleive, The Losers, Jack's handling of a DC World War II comic. Looking forward to it.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Cats For Christmas

Bruce and Amelia arrived yesterday for the long haul. Trish will be deployed to Iraq with her Air Force Reserve Unit in two weeks. She's spending the next week up north with her family. So her two cats have come to stay with me and will be here until sometime in June of next year. (Trish's deployment is six months.) Several people have commented about what a nice guy I am to take care of the cats for six months, but it's really not a burden or anything. I like them and they like me. (Though it usually takes Amelia a week or so to remember that she likes me.) I enjoy having them.
Their first night here passed calmly, with Amelia sleeping through the night without getting up and howling at the injustice of being left in Kennesaw. Doesn't mean she won't do that yet, but we'll call that a good opening day. Bruce was his usual buttinski self as I cooked breakfast this morning. Right now both cats are climbing around on the 'cat condo' Trish brought up. My living room is full of cat toys. I haven't had any pets since I left home a couple of decades back, so this will be the longest I've ever had pets around. Wish me luck.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Fifty One!!


Sorry about the hasty cut and paste job, but I was slapping this together before leaving for work this morning. I got Kharrn leveled up to 51 last night so I am officially in the new levels. As Homer Simpson would say, Woo Hoo!!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

A Slight Glitch

The killing didn't begin quite as quickly as hoped. When I got home from work at 5:00 and turned the computer on and logged in to LotR Online, there was a notice up from the developers saying they had to bring the servers down from 5:30 to 7:30. As you can imagine, after waiting all day to try out some new stuff, I was not thrilled.
However, once I DID get in, I did have fun checking out one of the new areas and killing some new monsters. It was kind of funny because I saw more people in one area than I've ever seen. Everyone was excited to have new places to adventure. A couple of places you almost had to wait in line to kill certain enemies. I didn't mind. There was a lot of good natured chatting on the OOC channel. Apparently a lot of people who hadn't played in a while were returning for the new release. As one player noted, "This is like a high school reunion!"
I didn't run into anyone I knew however, so I just soldiered on, killing all the enemies who came my way. managed to level Kharrn about halfway to the newly available level 51. With any luck I can actually get him there today. That's supposing that the servers are up when I get home...

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

And now begins the killing...

The Mines of Moria upgrade for Lord of the Rings Online goes up today. I downloaded all the new files last night. That means that there are now a bunch of new areas to explore and new monsters to fight and 10 new levels to attain. My main character Kharrn can start leveling up again after being capped at level 50 for the last few months. Probably also means that my secondary character Kellax will be stuck at level 33 for a while because I'll be taking Kharrn into all the new locations and doubtless neglecting his younger brother.
I went online for a few minutes this morning just to see if Kharrn could get back into action. I killed four bad guys, earning 1800 XP (experience points) for Kharrn, so yes, he is no longer capped. One of my kinship members, who was in the Moria beta test, tells me that all the stuff in Moria is too high to deal with at level 50, so I'll have to get Kharrn up a few more levels before I can actually take him inside the mines. But I can visit some of the other new areas as I level up, including Lothlorian. Been looking forward to that becoming available. So anyway, the new upgrade is here. And now begins the killing.

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Blade of the Slayer

Depending on who you ask, Simon Magus is either a historical figure or a bit of biblical apocrypha or both. He appears in some early Christian writings and is sometimes known as the first heretic. After seeing Simon portrayed by Jack Palance in the 1954 movie The Silver Chalice, author Richard Tierney made him the hero of a series of Sword & Sorcery stories. Unlike most S&S series, which tend to take place in unrecorded pre-history, Tierney set his tales of Simon Magus firmly in a historical setting, most of them taking place circa 30 A.D. Simon, a former gladiator, is trained in the arts of magic and mysticism and spends his time fighting against Rome and various supernatural menaces, often with links to H.P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu mythos. Tierney has also linked his series to Robert E. Howard's Conan through various references. The first two Simon Magus stories I read, The Ring of Set and the Scroll of Thoth, which appeared in the Swords Against Darkness anthologies, both concern relics from the Hyborian Age. Set is the snake god of the Stygians and the ring appears in two of Howard's stories, and the titular scroll belonged to Thoth-Amon, the evil wizard who causes Conan so much trouble. There are probably other references in the series, but so far I've only read four Simon stories, the two previously mentioned plus The Sword of Spartacus and The Blade of the Slayer.
The Blade of the Slayer is of particular interest to sword and sorcery aficionados because it features a guest appearance by another famous S&S character. And we know what a sucker I am for a crossover.

SPOILER ALERT. STOP HERE IF YOU WANT TO READ THIS STORY AND BE SURPRISED.

In this one, Simon is fleeing a band of cut throats in the desert and he ends up taking shelter in the ruins of an ancient city. There he meets an aged wizard who shows him an underground pit filled with some sort of heavy mist, fatal if breathed, and within that pit is the body of a man. According to the wizard, this is the first slayer. The man who let evil lose upon the world. The wizard claims that he and his brother wizards have imprisoned the man through sorcery but he still lives. Simon figures the old guy is nuts and the figure in the pit is just a well preserved corpse. But he also notices that the corpse has a sword and when the band of bad guys show up, the unarmed Simon holds his breath long enough to drop into the pit and grab the sword. The first man he kills pitches over into the pit, spilling blood on the prone figure and this counteracts the restraining sorcery.
Just when it seems that Simon is toast, the man from the pit rises from the mist and proceeds to handily kill the whole mob of bandits with a savagery that amazes even the battle hardened Simon. The man is massive, with red hair and beard, and the glittering blue eyes of a stone killer. When Simon asks the man's name he tells him that he is Kane, which Simon hears as Cain of course. He is indeed the first slayer. The man who committed the first murder when he killed his brother Able, and who must wander the world until he himself is killed by violence.
Of course Kane is also the creation of Karl Edward Wagner and the protagonist of numerous novels and short stories. Wagner liked and approved of Tierney's story, though he asked him to change the character's name to Nimrod for reprints so as not to interfere with Wagner's own continuity for projected further Kane stories. Now, many years after Wagner's death, the story appears with the Cain name intact in the Chaosium collection The Scroll of Thoth, which contains all the Simon Magus tales written solely by Richard Tierney. There are a couple of other stories done in collaboration with other writers that aren't included.
This ten year old book has become very collectible, perhaps because of the Kane connection, and I rarely see a good copy for less than 60 bucks. Though I'd wanted to read Blade of the Slayer since learning of its existence, I wasn't willing to fork over quite that much dough. I kept checking Ebay and Amazon and someone finally listed a copy on Amazon for 25 dollars. I snatched that one up. So now I have eight Simon Magus stories left to read, plus a new novel about Simon, The Drums of Chaos, was published just this year and I have a copy on the way.
Tierney's unique mix of historical adventure, sword & sorcery, and Lovecraftian horror makes for great reading, and I'm glad I snagged a copy of Scroll of Thoth. Plus, it was nice to see Kane one more time, even through the eyes of a different writer.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

The Devil You Know


While I was grocery shopping yesterday, I was in the soup aisle and I happen to catch a familiar logo out of the corner of my eye. A tiny red devil on a background of white paper. Deviled Ham. I guess it's been thirty years or so since I had any deviled ham. We would eat it on crackers or bread when I was just a kid whenever we'd go camping or on an impromptu picnic, and my mother used to mix it with pickle relish and boiled eggs to make a kind of ham salad.
If you've never had it, it comes in small cans, about the size of a cat food can, and the sturdy metal can is always wrapped in white paper. The meat itself is, as you would expect, very spicy.
So of course, I bought a can and took it home and ate the deviled ham on wheat bread. It tasted just the way I remembered it. It's manufactured bu Underwood and according to their website they introduced it in 1868. It's also low carb and high protein which is always a plus for me. Next time I think I'll have it on toast with eggs. Maybe with a little tobasco.
I called my mom and told her I'd had deviled ham for lunch and she found that vastly amusing. She said that now that I'd reminded her of it, she'd like some too and planned to buy some on her next shopping trip. It's nice to know that some memories are just waiting on the shelf for you.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Tarzan the Italian


My friend Whitney just returned from her whirlwind tour of Europe. (Actually she was in Italy for a 10 week study program, but whirlwind tour of Europe sounds cooler.) Before leaving she had asked me what I wanted as a souvenir and I'd said anything Italian featuring Conan or Tarzan. She returned with a very nifty little hardback album of Burne Hogarth Tarzan comic strips. It's printed in beautiful color on extremely nice paper and I'm very happy to add it to my collection of Tarzan comics. Hogarth is one of my top ten Tarzan artists. He was the second major artist on the long running Tarzan newspaper strip, following Hal Foster, and he drew the strip for longer than anyone else. Of course now that I've identified Hogarth as one of my top ten Tarzan comics artists, now I have to list the other nine. So here's the list more or less in order.

1. Russ Manning
2. Hal Foster
3. Joe Kubert
4. Thomas Yeates
5. Burne Hogarth
6. Jesse Marsh
7. Grey Morrow
8. John Buscema
9. Gil Kane
10. Mike Grell

Now keep in mind, this is a Tarzan specific list. Some of the comic book artists like Buscema and Kane would score higher on an overall list of favorite comic book artists. I'd have a real problem making a top ten list of my all time favorite comics artists. I'll give that some thought.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Reading Report

The weekend was absorbed mostly with the Letters of Robert E. Howard and assorted REH short stories, and I've already talked about all of that. Monday I did a re-read of A Savage Place, another one or Robert B. Parker's early Spenser novels. Currently I'm about 100 pages into Gateways, another of my dwindling supply of Repairman Jack novels. In this one, Jack's father has been injured in an accident and Jack has to fly down to Florida to help his comatose dad. However it soon appears that the accident may not have been so accidental. There's also a creepy group of backwoods mutants living in the everglade swamps who are apparently spawn of the Otherness, the supernatural force that Jack has run into before. F. Paul Wilson never ceases to amaze me with this narrative force. First 100 pages just flew by.
I have several books on order. In fact at least two of them are waiting for me at Dr. No's right now. There are also a couple of books I've asked for from my parents for Christmas and some books I plan to buy after the holidays, so with any luck I've got plenty of interesting reading ahead of me.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Important safety tip. Don't store your ground cinnamon and your chili powder side by side, particularly if they are made by the same company and come in bottles which are identical save for the label. Guess it could have been worse. Cinnamon in the chili wasn't too bad, where as chili powder in the oatmeal probably would have been a bit of a surprise...

Monday, November 10, 2008

The Devil You Don't Know

I did manage to dig up my copy of Marvel's Savage Sword of Conan #19 and read Don Glut's adaptation and completion of Robert E. Howard's Solomon Kane fragment The Castle of the Devil. Glut's version gets off to a slightly different start as the person Kane rescues from the gallows is a nubile and nude young lady as opposed to the young boy of the prose version. Aside from that, the events and dialogue stay true to REH right up until the final line of the fragment. After that, Glut takes us into his own brand of horror tale. Glut's Baron Von Staler, the titular devil, was born deformed, having the lower body of a goat so that he does bear a resemblance to old scratch. He's made a pact however with the real devil, who, for the requisite number of sacrificial virgins, will cure the Baron's deformity, making him entirely human. Solomon Kane and his newly met ally John Silence show up in time to save the most recent virgin. The baron isn't about to let his chance to be human escape though and much bloodshed ensues.
I enjoyed Glut's version of Castle quite a bit. I've long been a fan of Glut's Gold Key heroes Dagar the Invincible and Dr. Spektor, a barbarian warrior and an occult detective respectively. In Glut's take on Kane we get a little of both heroes as the sword wielding Kane steps firmly into Spektor's stomping grounds. There are some fun gothic overtones in the dark castle and Glut works in references to Dracula and Frankenstein. A few issues of Savage Sword later, Kane will have an adventure at Castle Frankenstein in fact. Glut has a long history of writing tales about the Frankenstein monster both in comics and in prose.
For more about Don Glut, check out an interview I did with him a few years back. The link should be at the bottom of this post. I enjoyed talking to Glut and he said I'd made his day when I told him that as a child I actually played at being Dr. Spektor in my back yard, fighting mummies and vampires and the like. I was apparently the first person who'd ever told him that.

http://www.swordandsorcery.org/int-comics-glut.asp

Letters From Cimmeria

Spent a good part of the weekend reading the third and final volume of the Collected Letters of Robert E. Howard. I had a lot of mixed emotions as I read through this volume. It's the one that contains the most information about Conan. The years 1933-1936 was when Howard was working hard on the tales of the burly Cimmerian. All the quotes I've read in various Conan related books and articles over the years come from the letters in this time frame. It was interesting to see them in their proper context.
However it's also the volume that contains Howard's last letters. The book is broken up by years, so as I reached 1936 I knew that Howard was fast approaching the end of his life. The tone of his letters doesn't really change though there is more mention of his mother's declining health. Much has been made about the motives for Howard's suicide, but I won't speculate on that here. I once read that suicide occurs when someone's pain exceeds their capacity to cope, and I think that's true.
There was one strange little moment as I was reading through Howard's letters for June of 1935. Howard liked to travel around as much as he could and he always kept up his correspondences from wherever he was. I'm reading along and suddenly there are two letters mailed from Santa Fe New Mexico. I immediately emailed Laura to tell her that Howard had visited her hometown.
A few pages later, in a letter to H.P. Lovecraft, there is a detailed account of Howard's visit to Santa Fe. He was only there for two days, and he talks mostly about the crowds of tourists and the mountain vistas. However he does mention that he went to the Governor's Palace which had been made into a museum even back in 1935. While I was in Santa Fe in June of this year I also visited that museum. I'm sure it's quite different than it was then but the fact remains that I have walked through the same space as Robert E. Howard. There's a building we've both been in. I find that kind of neat. I've had lunch in Conan Doyle's favorite hotel bar. I've sat at the desk where Charles Dickens wrote David Copperfield. I've held letters written by Mark Twain. I've sat at J.R.R. Tolkien's table in the Eagle and Child pub in Oxford. Now I've crossed paths with REH. I hope to make a trip to Texas in the not too distant future to see my pal Lanny and to visit the Robert E. Howard museum in Cross Plains.
Anyway, I finished up Letters Volume III last night not long before bedtime. No more missives from Two-Gun Bob as Lovecraft called him. However next year there will be two volumes that collect the correspondence between Howard and Lovecraft. I'll be able to read both sides of their often long and drawn out arguments and discussions without having to look through half a dozen books. So I'm not quite done with the letters of Robert E. Howard.

Rocky Balboa


After I was so taken with Sylvester Stallone's 2008 return to Rambo, I'd been meaning to watch his most recent take (2006) on his signature character, Rocky Balboa. I picked up a copy a few weeks back for five bucks at Movie Stop and finally sat down to watch it yesterday.
Loved it. Absolutely loved it. I'd seen all the Rocky films in the theater back in the day, and always enjoyed them. During my years of teaching and studying karate, whenever I'd have a lull in my training or not be feeling up to speed I'd pop a Rocky movie into the VCR and watch him training and I'd get fired up again. My brother always felt the same. So we had a little connection to Rocky that most movie goers were probably missing.
Anyway, in this one an aging Rocky is running a restaurant named for his departed and sorely missed wife Adrian. He is estranged from his son who can't get past living in the shadow of his old man who is living legend in Philly. When a sports show computer simulation shows that Rocky in his prime would have creamed the current heavy weight champ, the champ's sleazy promoters offer Rocky the chance to climb back into the ring against the heavyweight champion of the world. Rocky, dealing with his own private demons and feeling sidelined by life, agrees to the crazy idea and goes into training one last time. Watching these scenes I got that old familiar feeling. Made me want to run down to the fitness center and jump on the treadmill for a few miles.
I was somewhat concerned that Stallone would kill Rocky in this one. You know, he wins the fight but dies from injuries and all. But no, Rocky comes through just fine. He loses the fight on a split decision, but he wins in all the ways that matter.
A nice bit was that the young champ is also portrayed sympathetically. He's got his own problems and his own challenges and in the end he's faced them just like Rocky.
There are plenty of callbacks to the earlier films and some nice in-jokes for long time fans of the series. Stallone turns in an amazing performance, playing the slightly punchy Rocky as a likeable and decent human being, grieving for his lost wife and trying to move on. In the end that's the final message of the film. It isn't how much punishment you can dish out, but ultimately how much you can take and still keep moving forward. As both Rocky and Sly have proven, it's not over until it's over.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Conan the Detective

While I was looking for the Robert E. Howard historical fiction stories mentioned below I happened across another story I hadn't read, with the absolutely terrific title of Names in the Black Book. This is one of Howard's few forays into detective fiction, a genre he didn't at all care for, but one that he sometimes attempted. Howard says "I can scarcely stand to read a detective story, let alone write one."
I've read a couple of his other crime yarns featuring tough guy detective Steve Harrison. You can tell that REH wasn't much for detective fiction. The three of his Harrison stories that I've read have more to do with his usual sort of adventure story than with whodunits.
The one I read today, Names in the Black Book, could very easily have been another historical adventure really. The Oriental sorcerer...er..I mean gangster Erlik Khan is out for revenge against the people who betrayed him in an earlier Harrison story. He writes their names in his book of the dead with crimson ink on black pages, thus the title. Khan is sort of a poor man's Fu Manchu. Howard was a big reader of Sax Rohmer's Fu Manchu books and he created several "yellow peril" villains. Khan sends scorpions and snakes and assassins clad in black silk robes after the good guys. Harrison is eventually captured but escapes with the aid of an Afghan warrior right out of one of REH's El Borak stories. I kid you not. In the final third of the story, Harrison and the Afghan hold off all of Erlik Khan's minions with a mace and a sword respectively. It really does turn into a Conan yarn for all intents and purposes. And Harrison himself? You guessed it. Black hair, massive muscles, and "cold blue eyes." I'm starting to think that Cormac Fitzgeoffrey was a direct descendant of Conan and Steve Harrison a descendant of both earlier heroes.
Anyway, Names in the Black Book isn't one for people who like to wonder who killed Professor Plum in the library, but if you want a rip-snorting, two fisted detective story, you could do worse. In fact, now that I think of it, in some ways Howard's hero Harrison prefigures Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer. Though Spillane points up Caroll John Daly's Race Williams as being his main influence for Mike Hammer, I suppose it's possible that he might have read the Steve Harrison yarns as well.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Conan the Crusader

Even though I've been reading and collecting the works of Robert E. Howard for many years, I occasionally come across Howard stories that I haven't read. Not Conan of course, nor Solomon Kane or any of REH's more famous characters. I exhausted the supply of those long ago. No, usually it's a historical adventure or weird tale.
Case in point. The other day I was reading an article about Howard's historical fiction and the author mentioned the two Cormac Fitzgeoffrey tales set during the third crusade as being particularly Conan-like. So I says to myself, I says, you know, I don't think I've read those. I went and dug through my several dozen volumes of REH and couldn't turn up any stories about Fitzgeoffrey.
A quick internet check showed that unlike much of Howard's output, these two stories hadn't been reprinted dozens of times. Both stories had originally appeared in 1931 in Oriental Stories, the short lived companion pulp to Weird Tales and up until 2004, neither story had been reprinted in the US since the 1979 Donald Grant volume Hawks of Outremer. No wonder I didn't own them. However both are now available in several different volumes. I haven't ordered one yet though because I seemed to recall that Project Gutenberg Australia had etexts of a bunch of REH's historical yarns online and a quick perusal of their SF section brought to light Hawks of Outremer and The Blood of Belshazzar, the two completed Cormac Fitzgeoffrey stories. There is a fragment and a synopsis for a third story, The Slave Princess, which has been completed by other hands a time or two. I don't usually like to read etexts, but I was in a hurry to read these two stories and couldn't get my hands on a book that contained them quickly, so I made do.
I read Hawks of Outremer last night. It's basically a tale of revenge, as Cormac Fitzgeoffrey returns to Outremer (the general name given to the crusader states established after the first crusade) after being thought killed at sea, only to learn that Sieur Gerard, a man to whom Cormac owes his life, has been foully murdered by person or persons unknown. Cormac sets out to kill pretty much anyone even remotely involved and much carnage follows.
He starts out by splitting the skull of another knight who refused to come to Gerard's aid and the body count rises from there.
Cormac is indeed very much cut in the Conan mold. Six foot something of iron muscle with "a square cut black mane" of hair and "cold blue eyes blazing under heavy brows." Cormac even thinks of himself as a barbarian. He's inhumanly powerful just as Conan is. At one point in the story, when faced with a barrier of heavy iron bars, Cormac grips the bars and tears them from their anchor just as everyone's favorite Cimmerian would. When faced with a greater number of foes than even he can defeat, he prepares to leap in and die among them, taking as many with him as he can. Not to hard to imagine this story as a latter day Conan tale. Very enjoyable.
It's always fun to discover something of Howard's that I haven't read and doubly so when it's something close to a Conan tale, because as we know, Conan remains my favorite REH character. I've printed out Blood of Belshazzar to read this weekend. Looking forward to a bloody good time with Cona...er Cormac on crusade.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Checking It Twice

Officially started Christmas shopping yesterday. By that I mean that I bought my first gift. I'd actually started my Christmas list about a month back. I treat Christmas shopping like a military operation. Most of the hard work is done in the planning stage. Then I descend in a couple of lightning quick attacks and it's over. I have ten people on my list and I've picked out gifts for eight of them. I'm hoping to have one of the two remaining gifts decided on today. (Waiting for Intel.)
Basically my plan is, as usual, to be done with my shopping by Thanksgiving. Then I can just sit back and watch the chaos...

Monday, November 03, 2008

Reading Report

Having finally satiated myself with stories of goulies and ghosties and long leggedy beasties, I switched to reading crime fiction this weekend for a bit, doing a re-read of Robert B. Parker's 1975 Spenser novel, Mortal Stakes. It's interesting to see how much more verbose Parker was back in the early days of his long running series. He's gotten his minimalist approach to writing so finely tuned now that he almost appears to be writing Haiku. I think Parker's work has come to resemble that of Ernest Hemingway over the years as he has pared description and dialogue down to an absolute minimum, and yet he still manages to tell an entertaining story.
I made something of a jump back to horror by reading 'The Castle of the Devil', a Solomon Kane fragment by Robert E. Howard that was completed by Ramsey Campbell. I've waxed enthusiastic here before about Campbell's horror fiction and his own sword & sorcery hero Ryre. Though I'm not usually fond of "posthumous collaborations" Campbell was possibly the best choice for an author to finish off REH's Kane fragments. (There are three in the Baen Books collection Solomon Kane.) Since I've mentioned before that I think sword & sorcery was created from a mix of historical fiction and horror fiction, it seems that a writer of horror is perhaps a better choice to complete a REH story than a fantasy writer, especially in the tales of Kane, which tended to be dark and filled with horrors anyway. And Campbell's Ryre is much closer in temperament to Solomon Kane that to Conan.
I won't say that Campbell writes anything like Howard. In fact I think he did the right thing by not even trying. What you get in Castle of the Devil isn't pure Howard or pure Campbell, but rather a synthesis that works. The finished writing doesn't feel exactly like Campbell's other work either. It does make me wonder how Campbell might have completed one of Howard's Conan fragments. I'm thinking specifically of the one which has become known as The Hand of Nergal. It starts off with quite a bit of horrific imagery and I think Campbell could have done a good job with it. Fond though I am of the late Lin Carter, I don't think he really grasped what REH was going for when Lin did his own completion of Nergal. Recently Tim Truman has done a more Howardesque version in the Dark Horse Comics adaptation of the fragment. Dark Horse is currently publishing a Solomon Kane comic book adaptation and completion of Castle of the Devil. Read the second issue this week and it's pretty good so far. Come to think of it, I think Don Glut (writer creator of Dagar the Invincible) did an adaptation of 'Castle' as a back up in Savage Sword of Conan many years ago. Might have to look that up, since as we know, I own a full run of the magazine.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Blogiversary

I started Singular Points on November 1st, 2006, so here I am two years later and still blogging. I notice that this year I've fallen off somewhat. In 2007 I averaged a post a day. I'll fall short of that by about a third for 2008. I think this is mostly because in the first full year of the blog I was still caught up in the newness of blogging and I would write a post about anything that occurred to me. That's sort of worn off, so now I'm usually only blogging when I actually have something to say. My posts have grown longer but fewer as a result.
It's funny because knowing that I'm a writer, many people assumed that I've always kept a journal. Nope. I like to write fiction but I was never interested in any sort of diary or journal. So a blog has been a new experience for me. I've tried to balance it out with posts about what's going on in my life, book reviews, and the occasional essay. Back when I belonged to an APA, (amateur press association) I always treated my apa-zine like a small magazine rather than a journal. That's pretty much what I've done here as well.
Anyway, I'm still enjoying having the blog, so I'll be around for a while. Thanks to everyone who's shown interest in my ramblings. Hopefully I'll continue to have some stories and such that are, as Sherlock Holmes would say, "not without their singular points of interest."