Monday, December 28, 2009

Happy Birthday Stan Lee!


Today is the 87th Birthday of Stan Lee, a man without whom, the history of comics would be a heck of a lot shorter. He helped to revitalize a sinking industry and redefined the way we look at super heroes. So a very Happy Birthday to Stan the Man. Excelsior!

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas!


8:50 Christmas morning. I slept to almost 7:30 which is late for me. Supposed to have brunch at my brother's house at 10:00 so I'm just having a very light breakfast snack. (Coffee and a Christmas cookie.)
This will be my fourth Christmas get together in as many days, so I've certainly had my share of Holiday celebration. I'm hoping for a quiet afternoon to perhaps watch a couple of Christmas movies. So far the only Christmas themed show I've had time for was last year's Doctor Who Christmas episode The Next Doctor. Cybermen loose in Victorian England, a giant steam-punk robot, and a scenery chewing villainess. That's my kind of Christmas show. Still I'd like to work in a couple of more traditional holiday films before the day is out.
Otherwise it's been a nice Christmas season. I've received some very nifty gifts and folks have seemed genuinely pleased with my selections for them, so that aspect of the Holiday has gone well. Theoretically I'm off until Jan. 4th, but I am on call at work this Monday through Wednesday. Hopefully nothing will come up that requires my attention.
Anyway, I'd like to wish all of you out there a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Game Speak

Someone asked me the other day how my online gaming was going and I related an anecdote about a recent encounter, and somewhere in the middle I realized my listener's eyes were glazing over as I spewed out something like,

"So it was Nav, Brie, Tryll, and me in this instance and we had to take down this troll boss and a bunch of adds. The troll had major morale and we knew our best chance was to burn him down fast. Tryll was tanking so he grabbed the boss's aggro. Brie tried to fear one of the adds but he resisted, so I went after the adds while Nav helped Tryll. Both Nav and I had major DPS so Nav was dealing damage while Tryll held the aggro and I was getting the adds down before the Boss's morale hit a certain point because we knew he had a damage buff that kicked in after that. We were getting too many adds so Brie managed to mez one of them while I tried to pull the others into a tight group so I could AOE like mad. I was taking too much damage in fervor so I had to switch to ardor, but I still went down, but Brie was close enough for a rez, so I got back in the fight quick but she couldn't remove dread while I was aggroed so..."

I'm suddenly reminded of Curly in the Three Stooges episode, Disorder in the Court. Curly is going on in jazz club "jive" talk and the judge tells him to drop the vernacular. Curly looks at his hat and says, "Vernacular? It's a derby!"

Monday, December 21, 2009

Christmas Reading

After knocking out Under the Dome I finished Anne Perry's A Christmas Beginning. I've already given a synopsis a couple of posts earlier so I'll just say that the mystery held up to the end and the book had as happy an ending as a book about murder can have. As always I was impressed with Perry's seemingly effortless conjuring of the Victorian era. She never hits you over the head with her historical research. All the details you need are dropped in as you need them. Not an easy trick. I understand that next year Perry has a mystery coming out set in thirteenth century Byzantium. Have to check that out.
Not really sure what I'll read next. May be time to re-read Dickens' A Christmas Carol yet again. Watching the movies is fun but there's nothing to compare with reading the book. Plus, I have a nifty annotated edition with lots of information and cool illustrations to explain any of the obscure references and outmoded words and expressions. Very handy indeed.
I'll probably dig out some of my Christmas comic book trades. I have several collections of Disney, Archie, and Superhero Christmas comics. I enjoy reading those during the Holidays.
Think I've got some collections or Christmas mysteries around somewhere too, and there's always Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes Christmas tale, The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle.
Of course I have Christmas get togethers to attend Tuesday and Wednesday evenings so there won't be much time to read before Christmas Eve, and I have a family dinner that night too, so we'll see what I can work in.

Under the Dome

Steven King has always been something of an uneven author for me. I've read the majority of his books and I've liked the majority of what I've read, but the ones I didn't like, I usually didn't like at all. The latter seemed to be more prevalent than the former in King's more recent novels. I thought Cell was particularly bad and in fact didn't finish it. But then came Duma Key which I thought a great book and now there is Under the Dome. I didn't like Dome as much as I liked Duma, but I did like it a lot.
The basic concept is that a force field appears without warning or explanation around the small town of Chester's Mill in rural in Maine. Very little can get in or out. A little air and a little water pass through and that's about it. No solid objects at all. And the air and water won't be sufficient to keep everyone alive if the dome stays in place for too long and it shows no signs of going away, so things look grim.
The "hero" of the book is ex-soldier Dale Barbara, now working as a fry cook at the town's main restaurant. As the books opens, Barbara is on his way out of town after a fight with the son of the local 'big wig', town selectman Jim Rennie. Rennie, like many of King's antagonists, is a power hungry big fish in a small pond who takes advantage of the strange events to try and carve out a bigger chunk of power for himself. Barbara is unfortunate enough to just miss leaving town before the barrier slams shut, killing a lot of animals and people in colorful detail. The big conflict in the book is between Rennie's followers and the more free thinking citizens of Chester's Mill who line up with Barbara. Most of the good guys are misfits, another King staple. Oh and big Jim is of course, deeply religious. Fundamentalists, from Carrie's mom on up, are always dangerous in the land of King.
This is a pedal to the metal thriller which, amazingly, seldom lets up on the narrative force for all of its nearly eleven hundred pages. Its a long long thrill ride and I spent most of Friday evening and early Saturday finishing it up because it was just that compelling. It has all of King's strong points, Deep characterization. memorable characters. Elements that may or may not be supernatural. Psychological suspense. And that amazing story telling voice that King wields like a surgeon, drawing you in and then letting you have it between the eyes when he knows you are the most enthralled.
Of course on the flip side it has all of King's faults. A plot that rambles for all its force and too many characters to keep up with. The ending, which reveals the secret of the dome, is weak and like many of King's endings, feels rushed. But ultimately none of that matters. With King it's the journey more than the destination. You'll have a fine time on the ride. I know I did.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Happy Birthday Michael Moorcock!

It's Mike's 70th birthday today and he's still going strong. He's got any number of projects in the works from new Elric stories to a Doctor Who novel for the BBC to a biography/memoir of his friend Mervyn Peake. Even after all these years and all the books, his curiosity, creativity, enthusiasm, and imagination remain boundless. And he still has time for the occasional game of Mornington Crescent with his readers. So Happy Birthday, Pard. Hope there are many more to come.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Original She-Devil


Okay, pop-quiz. She has hair of flaming red, is clad in mail, and few men can equal her in swordplay. She appeared in the 1930s Pulp magazines right alongside Conan the Cimmerian. Who is she?

If you said Red Sonja, turn in your fanboy (or fangirl) badge. Red Sonja didn't show up until the 1970s and she never appeared in any pulps. There was another character named Red Sonya (with a Y) who did appear in one pulp, but it wasn't Weird Tales and that's another story which I've already covered. No, we're talking about C.L. Moore's Jirel of Joiry, the original red haired she-devil with a sword who first appeared in the October 1934 issue of Weird Tales in the story 'Black God's Kiss.' That same issue contained part of the serialized Conan tale, People of the Black Circle. It's a landmark issue for fans of sword & sorcery.
Jirel is pretty much the mother of all female sword & sorcery heroes. After REH got things rolling, other authors, such as Clifford Ball tried mining the same heroic fantasy territory with varying degrees of success. Moore was different, in more ways than one. Not only was the protagonist of the Jirel stories a female but so was the author. The C in C.L. Moore stands for Catherine.
Moore had already made a splash in the world of weird fiction with her dark 1933 SF/Fantasy story 'Shambleau'. This story, the first in her other series, the adventures of spaceman soldier of fortune Northwest Smith, contains some creepy sexual undertones that were very daring for the day.
Jirel came along soon after, earning the cover slot in Weird Tales with Black God's Kiss. Moore's sword & sorcery is a little hard to explain and unlike that of anyone else. It has violence and swordplay and sorcery, but it's written in a lush. moody, prose that reminds me more of Clark Ashton Smith than Robert E. Howard. The Jirel stories have a dreamlike quality and are filled with strange, almost hallucinatory images. Several of them, (And this is true of the Northwest Smith stories too) take place in other dimensions or weird pocket worlds that operate by their own rules and often contain their own small gods. My favorite of the six Jirel stories is probably Jirel Meets Magic. There's a lot of sorcerous goings on in that one that aren't like anything I've ever read elsewhere.
Unlike Conan, who adventures in a time before recorded history, Jirel's adventures take place in a sort of mythical Medieval France. In fact I often think of Jirel as Joan of Arc with a really really bad temper. Jirel is not to be messed with, as many of the male antagonists learn, much to their sorrow. Her blade is as quick as her temper and her wits. Moore, herself a redhead, had grown up reading Edgar Rice Burroughs and other such authors and she crashed the boys club of rockem sockem pulp tales and took no prisoners. And yet, Jirel is never portrayed as a Conan in a skirt. She remains a believable female character throughout her sanguinary exploits. Moore's stories carry considerably more characterization and emotional depth than the average pulp tale.
There are five "classic" Jirel stories and one rather odd one that teams Jirel with Northwest Smith. You'll have to read Quest of the Star Stone (written by Moore in collaboration with her husband, SF writer Henry Kuttner) to find out how a medieval warrior-woman met up with a futuristic space cowboy. All six of these tales were recently reprinted by Paizo Publishing in their trade paperback collection, Black God's Kiss. Well worth seeking out.

65!!!

Took me a little over two weeks to level my Lord of the Rings Online character Kharrn up to the new level cap, 65. And that was without really trying. I just did the quests as they came up, slowly leveling up from 60, the previous cap. I had reached 64 by the end of last weekend. Last night I went in planning to quest some more but ended up helping out some Kinship members who were lower level so I was just killing stuff left and right as they did their quests, watching my experience points mount up and my level slowly rise. Finally, once a bunch of the Windriders were online, Nav suggested that we do a six man Skirmish. We did and somewhere during a pitched battle with mass quantities of enemies, I leveled up to 65. I think it fitting that in the end Kharrn basically killed his way to 65. That's how Conan would have done it.

The Reading Report

Oh hi. Yeah, been like a week since I blogged. Real life and all that. Anyway, doing a good bit of reading lately, so figured I'd log in for a reading report. Over the weekend I read a book that's almost 195 years old. (Not my copy, mind you. It's a facsimile edition.) It's called Barozzi: The Venetian Sorceress, and it's one of the later Gothic novels, published in 1815. As the introduction notes it's pretty much a mishmash of earlier Gothics, primarily Ann Radcliffe's The Mysteries of Udolpho and George Brewer's The Witch of Ravensworth, leaning particularly hard on the latter. Still it's worth reading for its lively narrative style. The virginal, endangered heroine begins to wear on you after a while because she's so sweet and kind and wonderful and everyone just loves her, and she's constantly bursting into tears and lamenting her fate, but hey that was one of the tropes in that kind of book.
Then I re-read a couple of C.L. Moore's stories about Jirel of Joiry. I noticed the other day that I have neglected to give Jirel an entire post of her own here at Singular points and since she is an important character in the history of sword & sorcery, I need to rectify that soon.
Currently I'm switching back and forth between two books. The first is Stephen King's latest, Under the Dome, which begins as a sort of bloody Twilight Zone episode as an unexplained force field suddenly appears around a small town in Maine. No one can get in or out. King, being King, spends a lot of loving details on the gory after effects of the various cars, trucks,and planes which strike the invisible barrier. The he settles down to the sort of character development we've come to expect from King. I'm about 200 pages in and things are still really getting started, but this monster of a book is almost 1100 pages in hardback so he's got plenty of room to go. So far, I'm enjoying the book quite a bit.
This being the Christmas season though, I wanted to get in a little holiday reading, so I also started Anne Perry's much shorter book, (208 pages) a mystery called A Christmas Beginning. It's become something of a tradition for Perry to write a short novel for every Christmas season. This one actually came out in 2007, but somehow I never got around to reading it. Perry is best known for her two Victorian era mystery series, The Thomas Pitt books which take place in the late Victorian era, and the Monk books, which are set about thirty years earlier in Dickens' time period. A Christmas Beginning features a secondary character from the Monk books, a police inspector named Runcorn in a leading role this time.
Runcorn, a fifty-ish bachelor is taking a holiday on a small island in Wales for Christmas. Having no family he figured he might as well treat himself to a nice trip for the season. His holiday ends abruptly after the town Vicar's spirited young sister is murdered, stabbed to death in the church yard. Runcorn doesn't think the local constables are getting anywhere and he soon steps in to handle the investigation in his own rough hewn fashion. Perry's descriptions of the island are vivid and her period details, as always, impeccable. Back when I was reading whodunits hand over fist, Perry was a favorite. I'm enjoying being back in her company for the holidays.
Anyway, that's the reading report for now. We'll see what else pops up as the Holiday season continues.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Some Thoughts About Robert Jordan's Conan

Over the weekend I was reading Robert Jordan's Conan the Magnificent, one of seven Conan novels that Jordan wrote before he began his massive fantasy series, The Wheel of Time. As I've mentioned before, I've found WoT to be just about unreadable, primarily because of its slow pace and excessive detail. I know that's the kind of thing a lot of readers want from a doorstop fantasy series, but the appeal eludes me. In some ways it dismays me a bit too. I've read three of Jordan's Conan books and they are fast paced and full of colorful descriptions and lots of action. How a guy could write them and then turn to the ponderous Wheel of Time kind of amazes me.
I did notice, as I was reading Conan the Magnificent, that there were elements that show that Jordan might have already been musing about his upcoming fantasy epic. There's a group of priestesses and acolytes who use a magic that can't be wielded by men, just as the One Power in the WoT books can only be used by the nun like Aes Sedai. Men can channel the power, but it drives them mad. There's also a swordsman in the book who reminds me very much of Lan Mandragoran, an important character in the early WoT books. Lan features prominently in the only WoT novel I actually finished, New Spring.
However, the main thing that makes me think that Jordan was starting to stretch his creative wings is the comparatively small amount of time that the reader actually spends with Conan. Probably half the book is told from the points of view of secondary characters. While the multiple viewpoints are characteristic of modern fantasy novels, most Conan books tend to stick close to the big Cimmerian and only occasionally delve into other povs. I'll have to read the rest of Jordan's Conan novels before I can tell if this is common from the first. I don't recall it being so pronounced in the other two I've read. But you can tell he was beginning to chafe at the limitations of a single hero.
As far as Conan pastiches go, Jordan's are among the better ones. While his version of Conan isn't much like Robert E. Howard's, he did seem to have a good grasp on one element of Conan's personality, that of the savage among civilized men. A lot of pastiche writers miss that one. He also handles the portrayal of sorcery well, keeping it close to necromancy as opposed to the D&D style fireball type magic. When judging this sort of pastiche though, I try to get beyond the "does this sound like Robert E. Howard" mode of thought, because NOBODY can ever write Conan like REH. My basic take on Conan pastiches is pretty much the same as that of Karl Edward Wagner, who wrote one Conan novel himself. Pastiche is fine as long as it doesn't mess with the original writings of Robert E. Howard. I've no real problem with new Conan stories as long as they are kept separate from the 'real' Conan stories. In that sense, pastiches are much like media tie-in novels for TV shows and movies.
What I usually go by is how good a book would it be if it weren't about Conan, but some other barbarian hero like Brak or Thongor. Is it a good story? Does the writing hold up? In other words, is it a good sword & sorcery story regardless of its status as a Conan pastiche? By those standards, Jordan's Conans are near the top of the heap, along with Wagner's and those by John Maddox Roberts and John Hocking.
I noticed a couple of weeks back that two of Jordan's Conans have been brought back into print, probably to capitalize on the release of the new Wheel of Time book, The Gathering Storm. I believe six of the seven are still available in the omnibus collections The Chronicles of Conan Vol I&II as well. Those collections omit Jordan's novelization of the second Conan movie, Conan the Destroyer. Anyway, if you're up for some light weight sword & sorcery with some decent prose, you could do worse than Robert Jordan's Conan.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

My Kind of Town, Mirkwood Is...

Yesterday was the release of 'Siege of Mirkwood', the new expansion for Lord of the Rings Online. I had scheduled the day off over a month ago, so I was home when the servers came back up after the patch and ready for action. And action it was. The idea of the Mirkwood expansion is that the War of the Ring is heating up. Across the river from Lothlorien the dark woods are crawling with orcs, and I do mean crawling. I ran into more orcs yesterday than I'd normally see in a week of playing, and the respawn rate was insane. You'd barely kill one enemy and move onto another before the first one was back and attacking you from behind.
Then their are the new skirmish instances, which put you and some allies in a defensive position where wave after wave of bad guys attack you, making for some very frenetic gameplay. It all made for just the sort of game that a berserker Champion such as myself really enjoyed. Fight fight fight. Less talk. More killing.
Aside from the killing there were some nice additions. You can have an NPC soldier that follows you and helps you fight. You can make them in several classes. Mine's a healer, since when I'm soloing, I need heals more than I need backup. They've changed the mount system, so that you don't have to get off your horse to talk to NPCs or go through portals. That's nice. They upgraded all the legendary weapons so they can be made more powerful.
Anyway, it will be Thursday evening before I can really play much again, but I imagine that this weekend, I'll be spending a lot of time fighting the Siege of Mirkwood.

Friday, November 27, 2009

The Friday after Thanksgiving Report

I survived Thanksgiving. Made two trips to Canton and back. Ate entirely too much. Spent the evening playing Lord of the Rings Online and reading. Today I'm chilling out. Just watched 'Scent of a Woman' which is one of my all time favorite movies and my official Thanksgiving weekend film since it takes place over a Thanksgiving weekend. I don't watch it every year, but I try and save it for Thanksgiving. I have ordered a pizza and they told me it would be 60 to 90 minutes for delivery, so I guess the combination of more people off work today and holiday traffic is holding them up. (Usually 15 to 30 min) I'm okay with that. I always order early so I imagine the wait will just get longer.
Not sure what I'll do for the rest of the day. Probably read some more and play LotRO some more. Might write a bit. We'll see. Hope everyone's holiday weekend is going well.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

G.I. Joe


I love comic books so if I call a film a "comic book" movie, it's in no way to be taken as a slight. G.I. Joe is a comic book movie. Fast paced, colorful, and action packed, with hastily sketched characterizations and a plot laced with enough coincidences to boggle Edgar Rice Burroughs' suspension of disbelief. I quite enjoyed it.
I was too old to play with the 3 and 3/4" action figures when they originally came out. My G.I.Joe was 11 inches tall and a real soldier, so I have no nostalgia for the characters in the movie. Still I watched the cartoon occasionally and I read some of the Marvel comic books.
Most of the familiar faces are there. Hawk, Duke, and Scarlet. The rival ninjas, Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow. Cobra Commander and Destro. I found actress Sienna Miller to be a bit slight of frame as the leather clad Baroness, looking rather like a cheerleader someone had taken to a leather shop, but she did her best to slink her way through the early part of the movie.
As I said, there's plenty of action. Everything from car chases to gunfights to martial arts duels. There's also plenty of special effects, some of which are very good and others which look like an episode of Thunderbirds. Overall though it's a great popcorn movie.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Stuff, and Lots of It

Big night at the comic book store last night. Got a collection of Alex Raymond's Rip Kirby comic strip, the strip he quit Flash Gordon to create. Got a new DC Showcase volume, DC Comics Presents, which features team ups between Superman and other DC heroes like Flash, The Phantom Stranger, Mr. Miracle, and so on. Got a new issue of the Doc Savage reprints series, featuring a Doc novel I haven't ever read. Got the fourth volume of Dark Horse's Jesse Marsh Tarzan series. That's probably the last one of those I'll get as one of the DVD Roms I picked up recently was the complete Tarzan comics. As I noted, I'm perfectly happy to read them on the PC, so I don't really need the hardbacks.
Plus two books I'd ordered from Amazon came in yesterday. both collections of Harold Lamb's adventure fiction, edited by my pal, Howard Andrew Jones. All and all, quite a bit of new reading material.
The weird dreams continued last night, but no real nightmares. Oddly enough, right before waking this morning, I was dreaming about an adventure with some Viking raiders which morphed into a documentary about Vikings that I was narrating for PBS. Must have been the Mexican food...

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Darkly Dreaming

I'm in another one of those periods of extremely vivid dreams. most of them nightmares. For the last couple of weeks, my sleeping time has been filled with every sort of monster and menace my subconscious can come up with and that's saying something. I've had two very intense werewolf related dreams, and last night I was battling a particularly vicious necromancer in a dream involving reanimated corpses and a cavern full of death traps and venomous, tennis ball size spiders. At least the arachnids were smaller than the last ones I dreamed about, which were as large as German Shepherds. However in this dream there were thousands of them. Thing is, I'm not really afraid of spiders, so I don't know why they show up in my dreams so much. Possibly because they figure in so many sword and sorcery stories.
I've blogged before about how I've always had a lot of nightmares, and for the most part they don't bother me much. The majority of the time, my dream self successfully fights whatever creatures come after me, so I don't get too excited when some monstrosity shows up. Now and again though, I have a dream that really disturbs me. None of those last night, though. Just a lot of blood and gore and fighting. Par for the course.
On the plus side, I've also experienced an upswing in Lucid Dreaming, those dreams where I'm aware that I'm asleep and dreaming. Those are a lot of fun in that I usually can control them to a certain degree. Years ago, I used to keep a dream journal, which is supposed to help with dream recall, but I got tired of writing them all down though and gave it up. Might try that again at some point. I've gotten a couple of decent short stories that way. Maybe I'll start another blog.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Pike Rules

This Just in. January 12th 2010 is the release date for the "The First Rule", the new Joe Pike novel by Robert Crais. If you remember how much I liked Crais's last Pike book, The Watchman, then you know I'm eagerly awaiting this one. Pike's after some seriously bad guys but they're about to learn how the world works when they break the first rule. What's the first rule?

Don't make Joe Pike mad.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Blasts From the Past

Recently I've been buying DVD ROMs containing mass quantities of old Golden Age comic books. I picked up a set last week of Fawcett Comics featuring the original Captain Marvel (Shazam) and the Marvel family. I've always had a soft spot for the Big Red Cheese (As Cap was often called by his arch enemy Dr. Sivana) and most of the stories have yet to be reprinted in books, so the DVD ROMs were an inexpensive way to get a lot of fun old comics. While the character of Captain Marvel is trademarked by DC Comics, the old stories themselves are in public domain, or so the seller tells me.
It's interesting in that while I don't have much use for E-Book Readers or reading text online, I don't mind reading comic books on my PC, probably because comics are a visual medium. As long as the scans are good, reading them on the monitor is fine by me. Cliff and I were talking about this the other day and we think that this is probably where comics will be going in the future. Loathe though I am to admit it, I think the days of the paper comic book may be numbered, but that's a topic for another time.
Another thing Cliff and I were talking about was that with the scans you get the entire comic book, not just the story, so you get to see the letters and the text features and the ads. I've been having a lot of fun with all the old advertisements for Wild Root Hair Cream, (featuring Sam Spade) RC Cola, Tootsie Roll, and such, all of which are done in comic strip form. The art on these ads is often better than the art in the comic book stories themselves.
Anyway, I've got a whole bunch of stories about Captain Marvel, Captain Marvel Jr, and Mary Marvel (Now there' s a name for you.) plus many lesser known Fawcett heroes such as Bulletman, Ibis the Invincible, Mr. Scarlet, and many many more. Fun stuff.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Demon Journey

Sometimes you get a lucky break. I had been looking for a good copy of The Mighty Barbarians, a 1969 anthology of Sword & Sorcery stories, companion to a second anthology I already owned, The Mighty Swordsmen. Both books were edited by Hans Stefan Santesson and both had nifty covers by Jim Steranko. Anyway, someone on Ebay was offering both books along with three other paperbacks for four bucks. I bid, no one else did, and so I got the book I wanted for a song and it was indeed a fine copy and the copy of The Mighty Swordsmen was better than the one I had. Win, win. But wait, it gets better!
One of the other paperbacks was another collection of Sword & Sorcery stories called Swords Against Tomorrow. I'd heard of this one, but never come across a copy. I had already read most of the stories in the anthology but I was still pleased to get a copy, and as it turned out, one of the stories that I hadn't read was one of the best S&S yarns I've read in some time.
Poul Anderson's Demon Journey is an action packed, rollicking good adventure. It was written early in Anderson's long career, originally appearing in a 1951 issue of the pulp magazine Planet Stories under the title, Witch of the Demon Seas. The protagonist is a pirate named Corun, who is captured by his enemies and sentenced to death near the beginning of the story. Shorzan, a sorcerer in the employ of the enemy king offers Corun a chance at freedom if the pirate will lead him to the home of the non human Xanthi in the Demon Seas, a place that few humans have visited and fewer have returned from. Corun agrees, partly because he has been bewitched by Shorzan's slinky granddaughter, Chryseis, the titular witch of the original tale.
Corun and the sorcerers ship out with a crew of blue skinned mercenaries. Along the way they will face sorcery and sea monsters before finally reaching the home of the Xanthi, a race of amphibious creatures sort of like Lovecraft's Deep Ones. Here, loyalties will shift and plots will twist and much blood will be shed in harrowing battles. This is one the most pulpish efforts I've ever read by Anderson. It has almost a Robert E. Howard feel to it.
If you've been reading this blog for a while, you've seen me review other works by Poul Anderson, mostly his Viking related stories, but also his Conan pastiche, Conan the Rebel, and his vastly influential fantasy novel, The Broken Sword. The scary thing is, as much fantasy as Anderson wrote, he wrote even more science fiction, including some of my favorite time travel stories. I find Anderson's work to be generally enjoyable but occasionally uneven. I guess when someone writes as much as Anderson did, he's eventually going to turn out a clunker or two. Demon Journey is far from clunky though and I'm really glad I happened across it. Just a nice bit of luck.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Weekend Reading


Wednesday night I finally got the long delayed fourth volume of Night Shade Books' Collected Fantasies of Clark Ashton Smith. I've been reading some selections from that over the weekend, luxuriating in Smith's elaborate prose and dreamy worldscapes. Great stuff, plus the notes in the back of the book about the writing and the publication histories of the various stories are priceless. One volume left to go in the series. Aside from that I also read one of Gardner Fox's sword & sorcery novels, Kothar and the Wizard Slayer. Much as I admire Fox's comic book work, I find the prose in these novels to be a little stilted, but I think that's a product of the time (late 1960s-early 1970s) when they were published and the market for which they were intended. As Conan pastiches they're worse than some, but better than most. They just don't provide the things that modern readers expect. For instance, characterizations are very very flat. Still, entertaining and a good way to pass a couple of hours.
Did a re-read of Robert Jordan's novella New Spring, from the now decade old collection Legends. Though I've never been able to make it through the first volume in the late author's fantasy series The Wheel of Time, I always liked this short novel set in the WoT universe. It's a quick read at just 149 pages. Jordan later expanded it into a bigger book ,which I also read, but I prefer the shorter version. Forced to write tight, Jordan produced the epic fantasy equivalent of one of his earlier Conan pastiches, with a rousing sword fight and a nail-biting climax. Oh, and speaking of Jordan and Conan, I noticed that Tor has reissued two of the Jordan Conans, Conan the Defender and Conan the Destroyer, as new paperbacks. I can only assume this is because of the recent release of Jordan's newest WoT novel, which was completed from Jordan's partial manuscripts and notes by writer Brandon Sanderson and edited by Jordan's wife.
While I was reading New Spring I noticed that there are several of the other novellas in the collection that I had never gotten around to. May have to rectify that soon. That happens sometimes. I buy an anthology for one or two authors and don't get around to the other stories until years later. Sometimes I find some nice surprises.
I also read a novella by Poul Anderson, but that one gets a post of its own, probably tomorrow.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Jared's wife, Jenny makes the world's best Banana Bread. I'm just saying.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Post 125

Today is the third anniversary of this Blog. It also, coincidentally, marks the halfway point in last years number of posts. 2008 saw 250 posts, down from 368 in 2007. Still have two months to go in 2009, so I imagine I'll get well past the mid point, but there's little doubt I'll have fewer post this year than last. Looking back over 2009 I see that most of my posts were about books or movies and very few about my life in general. That probably explains the gap in posts from 2007 to now. I no longer feel the need to blog about my trips to the grocery store. Singular Points has become more of a web-zine and less of a journal. That's fine. My original purpose in starting the blog was to review books. Obviously I'm still doing that. I've also written more fiction this year than the preceding two, which is also probably another reason I haven't been here as much. Anyway, I'm still enjoying the blog so I'm not going away any time soon.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Finishing Up Halloween

Well I don't think I could have packed much more Halloween stuff into the blog for October. Maybe if I had made the background orange. Anyway, so far today I have watched the movie Van Helsing, liking it much better on a second viewing, and I have read horror stories by Karl Edward Wagner and Clark Ashton Smith. Depending on how the evening goes I may watch one more movie, but Halloween is winding down.
I bought a bag of candy this morning for 40% off, just in case I have a trick or treater. I've had one in the four years I've lived here and that one was sent over by someone who knew me so I'm not expecting anyone, but I'd hate to have a kid or two show up and have nothing to give them. I bought chocolate so I can eat it if no one shows up. Probably should have bought something I hate like Starbursts or Skittles. Then I could have taken it to work on Monday.
It's been a gray, raining day here, suitable for Halloween, but fortunately the rain seems to have stopped for now, so the kids should be able to get out and trick or treat. Anyway. hope everyone has a suitably spooky and fun All Hallow's Eve.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Friday Night Frights

Back in the late 1950s, Universal Studios began packaging their library of Horror films under the title Shock Theater and marketing them to Local Television stations. The stations would supply a "horror host" usually some employee of the station in a fright wig who would come out and introduce the movies. Later, other stations would have their own horror shows and horror hosts not connected to the original Shock Theater package. These shows had names like Chiller Theater, Creature Features, and House of Horror. Some of the hosts became celebrities in their own right, including Zacherley, Vampira, Elvira, and my personal favorite, Rico Mortis.
In the Atlanta area in the 1970s we had Friday Night Frights on Channel 17. (This was Ted Turner's station way before it became the Super Station WTBS) While the show did have a host for a while, a fellow named Dead Earnest, I don't really remember him. By the time I started watching Friday Night Frights regularly, he was gone and the show was introduced by an off screen announcer.
Friday Night Frights often showed science fiction movies as opposed to horror films. Of course there's a lot of overlap between the two genres. In those pre-VCR days, the only way to catch classic SF movies was to find them on obscure TV stations and for some reason most stations tended to show SF movies in the middle of the night. The Late Late show if you will. So the only way that I could see such classics as Forbidden Planet, The Time Machine, and various Ray Harryhausen films was to sit up late and watch them.
Friday Night Frights, on the other hand, began at 7:30 on Fridays and usually ran a double feature. So I could catch Them! or The Day the Earth Stood Still or This Island Earth without having to put my sleeping bag down in the living room. (Not that that wasn't fun.) I remember one night, Friday Night Frights showed The Time Machine and King Kong. Now THAT was a double feature!
Oddly enough, I saw most of the classic (and not so classic) horror movies not on Friday nights, but on weekday afternoons on another local show called Dialing For Dollars. They would rerun the Universal Horror films endlessly as well as pretty much every giant monster movie ever made in Japan. So one week it night be Frankenstein, the Wolfman, and the Mummy and the next week it would be Godzilla, Mothra, and Gamera.
I don't know exactly when Friday Night Frights went off the air. A quick internet search suggests 1975. I suppose the need for such niche shows died out with the coming of the VCR. I mean, why watch Friday Night Frights when you can simply buy videos and have your own monster fest. Still, in some ways I miss the days when trying to catch a showing of The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad of Godzilla Versus King Kong took some effort. The movies seemed more rare and special then. But that may simply be because I was just a kid. As the old saw goes, What was the Golden Age of Science Fiction? Twelve.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Monster Squad


The movie Monster Squad came out back in 1987 and I probably saw it the following year on VHS. I remember watching it and thinking it was a lot of fun, but it's not a movie I've given a lot of thought to since. A couple of weeks ago when I was on Youtube, doing searches on the Universal Monster movies, I came across the trailer for Monster Squad and a couple of related videos. Decided that it might be a fun movie to add to my Halloween horror fest, so I stopped by Movie Stop one day last week to see if I could find a used copy on DVD. As it turned out, Movie Stop was having a sale on Halloween movies and they had the two disc 20th Anniversary Edition of Monster Squad marked down to six bucks for a brand new copy. Needless to say, I snatched that up.
Sat down and watched the movie Saturday afternoon and really had fun with it. The basic idea is that five of the classic monsters, Dracula, The Wolfman, Frankenstein's Monster, the Mummy, and the Creature from the Black Lagoon, show up in suburbia, looking for a long hidden magical amulet that will allow the forces of good and evil to be tipped to the dark side giving control of the world to the creatures of the night. The only people who figure out what's going on are a group of kids who have a club dedicated to monsters of all kinds. Realizing that no one will believe them, they set out to stop the monsters on their own.
The second DVD contains a bunch of interviews with the cast and crew. Something that struck me as interesting was that the writer's initial concept was the Little Rascals meet The Universal Monsters, but when the idea was pitched to Universal Studios, Universal took a pass. So the idea went to another studio, making it necessary to redesign the monsters so that they didn't look enough like the original Universal creatures to get the filmmakers sued. In some ways that worked out well as most of the designs are very well done. Dracula didn't really work for me as he just looked like some guy in a Dracula costume, where as the other monsters looked like updated versions of the originals. The only unfortunate thing was the staging of certain scenes, because while the costumes and makeups looked really good, there are too many scenes of the monsters just standing around in a group, looking like backstage at a Universal Halloween show.
This is a kid's movie so it's not really very scary, though there are a couple of scenes near the end where you get some idea of just how unstoppable a Vampire like Dracula could be. Despite his Wal-Mart costume, actor Duncan Regehr actually manages to get a bit of menace into the role of the count. Tom Noonan is good as the Frankenstein Monster and a couple of scenes he's in are homages to Bride of Frankenstein and Abbott and Costello meet Frankenstein.
The kids do a good job in this one, particularly Andre Gower, as Sean, the leader of the Monster Squad. For the most part the kids aren't as cloyingly cute or annoying as the kids in other 1980s kid movies like Goonies. Anyway, Saturday afternoon was the perfect time to sit back and watch this Saturday Matinee style movie. It would make a good double bill with Van Helsing, another cheesy movie that attempts to bring back the Universal Monsters.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Day Made

Over at his blog, Lou Anderson has put up the table of contents for the upcoming anthology Swords and Dark Magic: The New Sword and Sorcery. Not only am I pleased that S&S seems to be making something of a comeback, but the line up for this one includes my pal Michael Moorcock with a new Elric story, Glen Cook with a new tale of the Black Company, and new favorite Joe Abercrombie with a long short featuring characters from his next novel. Plus C.J. Cherryh, Gene Wolfe, Tanith Lee, Robert Silverberg, and more. What a line up. I am so there. Did I mention NEW ELRIC story?!

The Footfalls Within and the Music of Erich Zann


Last night's horror reading consisted of two classic short stories, one by H.P. Lovecraft, and one by Robert E. Howard. First was Lovecraft's The Music of Erich Zann, the story of a university student who takes a room in a crooked house in a crooked street in the poor section of town in an unnamed city. Late at night he hears the weird, haunting strains of a violin, and his curiosity drives him to meet the musician, Erich Zann. Zann, who is mute, seems overwhelmed with fear when he learns that the young man has heard him playing and begs him to take a room on a lower floor so as to be farther away from the attic where Zann lives and plays. The student agrees, but he can't stay away from the weird melodies, and eventually he is confronted with the terrible secrets of The Music of Erich Zann. This one probably makes it into my top five Lovecraft tales. It's short and packs a nice, creepy punch near the end.
The Footfalls Within concerns Robert E. Howard's Elizabethan era Puritan adventurer Solomon Kane. Kane is in Africa, seeking out evil as he wanders the trackless jungles and plains. He comes across the body of a young native woman who has been mistreated and finally murdered by Moslem Arab slavers. This does not sit well with Kane.

"The kites mark their trail," muttered the tall Englishman. "Destruction goeth before them and death followeth after. Woe unto ye, sons of iniquity, for the wrath of God is upon ye. The cords be loosed on the iron necks of the hounds of hate and the bow of vengeance is strung. Ye are proud-stomached and strong, and the people cry out beneath your feet, but retribution cometh in the blackness of midnight and the redness of dawn."

Translation, You do not mess with Solomon Kane. Kane takes up the trail of the slavers, but lets his rage get away from him and attacks the group of over a hundred bad guys. Being a Howard hero, Kane takes a considerable toll among his enemies before being captured but he eventually ends up a prisoner of the slavers.
Things take a turn into horror territory as one of the slaver's scouts finds an ancient building, made from black stones unlike any in Africa. The greedy leader of the slavers orders his men to break down the door, thinking the weird building the tomb of some king and likely to contain riches. As hammer blows fall on the ancient lock, Solomon Kane alone can hear the pacing footfalls of something lurking within.
Something I noted as I re-read Footfalls was the large amount of continuity that exists in the Solomon Kane tales. Howard's Conan stories rarely reference one another, but in The Footfalls Within Kane reflects on events from previous stories such as The Moon of Skulls, The Hills of the Dead, and Red Shadows. We learn more about the strangely carved, cat-headed, juju staff that Kane carries, a gift from his witch-doctor blood brother N'longa.
Many Howard aficionados think that the Solomon Kane stories are the cream of Howard's work. I'm more fond of Conan as a character, but I have to admit that the dark, moody, adventure of Solomon Kane are very compelling. Anyway, can't beat a night of creepy reading with Howard and Lovecraft.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Halloween Report

Scanning the last few posts I see that my blog is looking very Halloween-ish. (Halloween-esque? Halloweeny?) I've got H.P. Lovecraft, Universal Monsters, Robert E. Howard horror, and Dr. Spektor. There will be more to come as I have other Halloween related posts in mind. I have always enjoyed the Halloween season. I like to read scary stories and watch creepy movies and just get into the whole spirit of the thing. Last night I read Lovecraft's story Pickman's Model and a few nights before I re-read The Whisperer in Darkness. Both of these are Lovecraft tales that basically are build ups to a surprise ending. I don't think either would surprise modern readers but both are very atmospheric and still a lot of fun. I've read my two favorite Lovecraft stories, The Call of Cthulhu and The Dunwich Horror, too recently for re-reads this year so I'm delving back into some Lovecraft stuff I haven't read in years. Also I'm reading the Lovecraft/Robert E. Howard correspondence right now and Lovecraft was talking about 'Whisperer' in one of the letters. Made me want to go back and re-read it.
I have a Halloween movie double feature coming up which isn't exactly horror, but if fits the season for reasons which will become apparent later. Kind of wanted to write a Halloween short story this year, but I'm running out of time so that may not go, at least not by Halloween. Anyway, more ghostly goings on to come.

The Occult Files of Dr. Spektor


Back in the 1970s, there were two main comic book companies, Marvel and DC. When I would browse the spinner rack (Hey Kids! Comics!) at Blair's Foodtown Grocery store I would occasionally see comics by a couple of smaller companies. One was Charleton, who seemed to have the world's cheapest paper and the world's worst printing, and the other was Gold Key. Gold Key comics were easy to spot because their adventure titles had distinctive painted covers, looking more like Young Adult novel covers than comic books.
I was familiar with Gold Key because they had published the Tarzan comics my mom collected, so I tended to look for the painted covers. Distribution was pretty spotty back then and Marvel and DC (And Archie. I forgot Archie because I rarely read them. That would come later.) took up most of the rack space but I would occasionally spot gold key titles like Turok Son of Stone, The Jungle Twins, Star Trek, Mighty Samson, etc. (Gold Key lost the rights to Tarzan to DC shortly after I began collecting comic books.) I almost always bought them if I had the money because Gold Key comics tended to have complete stories in each issue so it didn't matter if you missed an issue. There was no continuity to speak of. Plus, they had a lot of good, solid adventure stories with nice artwork.
I didn't know it at the time but Gold Key was the comics arm of Western publishing, who also published Little Golden Books and the like, and whose titles had formerly been distributed by Dell. Dell Comics had been dedicated to providing wholesome comic books for decades. You weren't going to get a lot of blood and gore from Dell. Thus, the Gold Key comic line was less bombastic than Marvel and DC.
Anyway, I never got into Gold Key's supernatural themed books, The Twilight Zone, Grimm's Ghost Stories, Boris Karloff Mystery, and such, so it's a little unusual that the cover for The Occult Files of Dr. Spektor #10 caught my attention. Perhaps it was the mummy crashing through the window. The afternoon television show Dialing For Dollars tended to show the Universal Studios Mummy movies a lot and I rather liked them. Maybe it was the title. Dr. Spektor had a nice ring to it. It may have been the interior artwork by Jesse Santos. I had already discovered Santos' art in Gold Key's sword and sorcery comic, Dagar the Invincible and really liked it. More about that in a bit. Whatever the reason, I decided to pick it up. I was very taken with it, and afterwards would buy any issues of Spektor I spotted.
Dr. Adam Spektor was an occult specialist, sort of like the famous literary occult detectives Jules de Grandin, Lucius Leffing, and Anton Zarnak. He was apparently independently wealthy as he lived in a mansion, Spektor Manor, and seemed to have a lot of free time to hunt spooks and monsters. He was aided in his battles against supernatural menaces by his beautiful Native American secretary, Lakota Rainflower. Spektor sported a black Inverness style coat, giving him a sort of Victorian look, but his long hair and Van Dyke beard were straight out of the 70s. By the time I discovered Dr. Spektor he had already run into a Dracula-like Vampire named Count Tibor, Frankenstein's Monster, a resurrected Mr. Hyde, the Mummy Ra Ka Tep, a spectral hound, a vengeful witch, and other creepy opponents.
After I had met the good Doctor he would face, among other creatures, zombies, a swamp monster, a sea monster, the living brain of an ancient sorcerer, and a werewolf who would turn Spektor into a werewolf as well. In other words, Dr. Spektor pretty much ran the gamut of the monster world.
I didn't know it at the time but the creator and writer of Dr. Spektor was uniquely suited to write about all these supernatural menaces. Donald F. Glut (rhymes with flute) seems to have had a lifelong interest in monsters. He made his first monster movie at age 9 and went on to make 41 amateur films, including homages to Frankenstein and the Teenage Werewolf. Over the years Don has written novels and short stories about Frankenstein's monster, Dracula, the Mummy, etc, as well as numerous non fiction books about dinosaurs, vampires, Movie Monsters, werewolves, Frankenstein, and more. These days Don runs Frontline Entertainment, a company that produces, you guessed it, monster movies. The man knows his monsters. And if that wasn't enough, Don credits his entry into the world of professional comic book writing to Forest J. Ackerman, long time editor of Famous Monsters of Filmland.
Glut was one of the few new writers brought into the Gold Key stable in the 70s, most of the staff having been around since Dell days. Glut was something of an envelope pusher, bringing a touch of Marvel style continuity to his titles, linking Spektor to Dagar and Dagar to Tragg and the Sky Gods. In some ways, Glut created his own small 'universe' in comics. This Glutiverse would make a good topic for a separate post at some point, come to think of it. He also wrote continued stories, once an absolute no-no at Gold Key, and he brought back several defunct Gold Key characters like super heroes Dr. Solar and The Owl.
Glut was aided on Spektor, Dagar, and Tragg by artist Jesse Santos. Santos was one of the artists from the Philippines who popped up in the 1970s to work at Marvel, DC, and Gold Key. Santos had a style like no other I'd seen. He rarely used the traditional comic book inking technique of "feathering" to suggest tone, but rather used interconnecting lines of various widths to give a very different effect. His later work became more impressionistic as he went. His painted covers for Spektor and Dagar are vivid and very unlike the other Gold Key cover paintings. And he drew beautiful girls, of which there were plenty in both Dr. Spektor and Dagar the Invincible. Quite a bit of Santos' work can be found on the net and it's worth looking up.
Anyway, I'm currently re-reading the run of Dr. Spektor as part of my Halloween horror reading. I'm impressed yet again at the solid writing of Don Glut and the lovely art of Jesse Santos. Dark Horse Comics is currently reprinting a lot of Gold Key titles in hardback and I'd certainly like to see a collection of all 24 original issues of Dr. Spektor in one volume.(Along with the one Spektor issue of Gold Key Spotlight and Spektor's appearances in Spine-Tingling Tales.) And a Dagar volume as well. Are you listening, Dark Horse?

You can learn more about Donald F. Glut at his website here:

http://www.donaldfglut.com/index.html

And read an interview with Don that I did here:

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

Saturday, October 17, 2009

The House of Arabu


Continuing my reading of creepy stories for the Halloween season, last night I re-read Robert E. Howard's Story The House of Arabu. I have noted before that Howard basically invented the sword & sorcery genre by combining historical fiction with horror, and the House of Arabu is a fine example. The hero of the tale is one Pyrrhas the Argive (a citizen of Argos in Greece), a mercenary working for King Eannatum of Lagash. The story begins in the Sumerian city of Nippur where Pyrrhas is attending a lavish party thrown by the Semite noble Narim-Ninub. Despite the decadent goings on, Pyrrhas remains gloomy and remote. When pressed by Narim-Ninub, Pyrrhas admits that his dreams are cursed by a female demon. "One who haunts my dreams and floats like a shadow between me and the moon. In my dreams I feel her teeth at my throat, and I wake to hear the flutter of wings and the cry of an owl."
Things get creepier and it is soon revealed that Pyrrhas has been marked for death by the demoness Lilitu and her mate Ardat Lili who dwell in the House of Arabu, the house of the dead. Pyrrhas learns that his only hope may be the malignant sorcerer Gimil-ishbi. Gimil-ishbi's council leads Pyrrhas to a midnight confrontation with the two demons and a harrowing visit to the House of Arabu itself. (Not sure where REH gathered his background information for the story. He refers to Ardat Lili as a male, where my book of Mesopotamian myths calls Ardat Lili 'Lilitu's or Lilith's handmaiden'. I know Howard had a book or two in his library concerning the Assyrians, Sumerians, etc. He may have simply been using artistic license to make Ardat Lili a male for contrast.)
This is a very atmospheric little horror tale with just a smattering of action, and oddly enough it wasn't published until long after Robert E. Howard's death in 1936. It appeared in a revised form in 1952 in Avon Fantasy Reader #18 under the somewhat inexplicable title of The Witch From Hell's Kitchen. It was restored to a full Robert E. Howard version in the Wandering Star volume The Ultimate Triumph and was recently reprinted in Del Rey's The Horror Stories of Robert E. Howard. I first encountered the story in prose form in a slim little paperback from 1979 called Wolfshead.
However, several years earlier I had read an adaptation of The House of Arabu in issue #38 of Marvel Comics' Conan the Barbarian. Writer Roy Thomas had taken House and changed Pyrrhas to Conan and changed other names of people and places to make the story fit into the Hyborian age. Thomas's story was titled The Warrior and the Were-Woman (Which is weird because were means man, as in were-wolf, but what the hey.) and is a pretty faithful adaptation, using large chunks of Howard's prose in both description and dialog. It does omit the trip to the House of Arabu, but the rest of the plot is pretty much intact. This was one of the first few issues of Conan that I ever read. I think it's also the first full art job by John Buscema that I saw. Buscema both penciled and inked the story and he did a great job, filling the story with dark shadows and lots of spooky atmosphere. I can remember being creeped out at age 12 when Lilitu threatened Conan, saying "Oh could I but reach you! How I would leave you a blind, mangled cripple!" And you knew she could do it too.
Anyway, House of Arabu translated pretty easily to a Conan story which isn't surprising since, like much of Howard's pre-Conan output, it is a story of a barbarian in civilization. Writer Karl Edward Wagner referred to Pyrrhas as a 'proto-Conan' in his forward to the Berkley edition of The Hour of the Dragon. Says Wagner, "Pyrrhas is another barbarian adventurer, wandering through the civilized Kingdom's of history's dawn."
House of Arabu functions well as sword & sorcery or simply as a horror tale. It is available online in a couple of places but that's probably the revised version so I'd advise seeking out The Horror Stories of Robert E. Howard. Plenty of other Halloween reading in that volume as well.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Thurnley Abbey

And speaking of Halloween reading, I'd like to recommend a particularly creepy ghost story to you. This one was published in 1908. It's called Thurnley Abbey and it's author is Perceval Landon. For reasons I cannot entirely explain, this one really creeped me out. Perhaps it's the slow build up. Perhaps the nature of the haunting itself. In some ways it seems more like a 'real' ghost story than a lot of the fiction of this kind. For whatever reasons, I liked it a lot and got a nice little chill out of it. It's in public domain so you can read it in PDF format here.

http://horrormasters.com/Text/a0609.pdf


Just make sure you're not home alone.

Halloween Reading


Did a lot of Halloween themed reading over the weekend, both fiction and non fiction. I finished off the short stories in Lovecraft Unbound save for the Michael Chabon entry, which I decided to keep until closer to Halloween. Then I switched to a recently acquired collection from 1987 called Night Visions 2. This one contains horror short stories from David Morrell, Joseph Payne Brennan, and Karl Edward Wagner. I'd already read all of Wagner's tales but I re-read one called Old Loves which is something of a salute to the 1960s British spy series The Avengers while having a nasty little horror twist at the end. Reportedly Karl Edward Wagner was a big fan of The Avengers so I'm sure he had a lot of fun writing this one.
I read one of Morrell's stories, Black and White and Red All Over, about a newspaper boy who runs into a serial killer, followed by two by Brennan, Pick Up and Starlock Street. Both of these stories are very much in the Twilight Zone mode. In the first, a man picks up a hitchhiker who may or may not be the ghost of a woman he had an affair with, and in the latter a man finds a street in his town that seems to be stuck in the Victorian era, but turns out to be something far more sinister.
I originally ordered this book because it contains one of the few Sword and Sorcery stories written by Brennan, Oasis of Abomination, but I left that one unread for now. It's October so I'm looking for ghosts and ghoulies and while I'm sure Brennan's tale has elements of horror, I figured I'd save it for when I get done with my Halloween reading.
My non-fiction Halloween book for the weekend was Michael Mallory's Universal Studios Monsters: A Legacy of Horror. This is one of the better books I've read about the classic Universal horror movies and I'd certainly recommend it for someone who was just discovering Frankenstein and the lot. I was very impressed by the way the book was structured. The author begins with a general history of Universal studios, which gives the reader some background and perspective. Then he has a chapter about Frankenstein which includes synopses of all the Frankenstein movies, cast information, on set anecdotes and the like. He doesn't spend much time talking about Boris Karloff, the man who played the monster, because a few chapters later he has a chapter all about Karloff. That's pretty much the pattern for the rest of the book. A Chapter about Dracula, then a chapter about Bela Lugosi. A Chapter about the Wolfman, then a chapter about Lon Chaney Jr. Later there are chapters about the female stars, the character actors, the directors, the special effects and make-up men, and so forth. A very well done reference volume with a ton of photographs. If you love the Universal monsters you'll want this book for your collection.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Lovecraft Unbound


I almost didn't buy this book. Knowing of my interest in the works of Howard Phillips Lovecraft, Cliff had set a copy aside at his store for my perusal. I looked at the table of contents and only saw a couple of names I recognized. That's what put me off initially. Several times in the past I've bought collections of Lovecraft pastiches, only to find that the contributors weren't overly fond of or well versed in Lovecraft, and were presumably hired because they were friends of the editor who had an anthology to fill up. In that situation what you often end up with is warmed over Lovecraft, usually some tale of an unfortunate fellow who finds some ancient book or statue and is eaten by some gibbering slavering entity from the outer dark. Been there. Saw the movie. Designed the T-Shirt.
In the end it was Michael Chabon's name that caused me to pick up the book. I've read most of Chabon's books and never been disappointed, so I figured what the heck. Boy am I glad I did. I'm about halfway through the book and really enjoying the collection. Small author bios tell how each writer discovered the works of H.P. Lovecraft and how he influenced their work. So far everyone has been a Lovecraft fan and while I've enjoyed some stories more than others, I haven't hit a real clunker yet.
Standouts from the first half of the collection are: The Office of Doom by Richard Bowes, which does feature Lovecraft's most famous evil tome, but in a very original way. The Crevasse by Dale Bailey and Nathan Ballingrud, a tale that captures the spirit of Lovecraft without using a single one of his tropes. And my favorite so far, Houses Under the Sea, by Caitlin R. Kiernan, a beautifully written tale which manages to be a creepy, disturbing horror story and at the same time a memoir of a doomed romance.
Anyway, I'm really glad I didn't pass this one by, and I haven't even gotten to Michael Chabon's entry yet. Editor Ellen Datlow is to be congratulated for putting together an edgy, creepy anthology with some talented writers. The trade paperback is published by Dark Horse Comics and came out last week. The book is dedicated to H.P. Lovecraft and Datlow adds that she hopes he would approve. I think he would, and I know he would enjoy some of these weird tales tremendously.

My Evening as Rubeus Hagrid

Wow, it's been a week since I blogged anything. Sorry about that. Its not that nothing of interest has happened, but I guess I just haven't been in a bloggy mood. Anyway, probably the most interesting thing from last week was being J.K. Rowling's Rubeus Hagrid on Friday night. It happened like this.
My friend Nancy was having a birthday party for her daughter Ellen, who was just turning eleven. Ellen is a huge fan of the Harry Potter books and her mom was throwing her a Harry Potter birthday party/sleepover. Ellen and a group of her friends all dressed up as various characters from the Potter books. They played Harry Potter games and Nancy and her husband had done up their house as Hogwarts, making various rooms into class rooms where the girls got to attend classes in potions, magical creatures, defense from the dark arts, etc.
But, what Ellen didn't know, was that Nancy had asked me (the biggest guy she knew) to show up halfway through the party and deliver a somewhat dented birthday cake and a letter of acceptance to Hogwart's just as Hagrid does in the first book to the just turned eleven Harry Potter. She ordered an impressive mask with lifelike hair and beard for me to wear, and a pink umbrella like Hagrid carries. To make the costume more authentic, I borrowed my dad's duster coat. This turned out better than I expected because the long coat hung from my shoulders, making me seem even bigger than I already am. And I can do a credible impersonation of actor Robbie Coltrane's voice from the movies which helped.
Ellen and her friend were stunned when I showed up and pounded on the door. When Ellen answered, her eyes looked the size of saucers. I think the girls were a little scared of this huge stranger (Ellen had never met me) but they warmed up quickly when I started talking in my Hagrid voice and being funny and answering their rapid fire questions just as if I were really Hagrid. I was a major hit.
There was only one small mishap. The eye holes in the mask weren't quite big enough and Nancy cut them bigger for me. Somehow this unsealed the latex around my eyes and the fumes made my eyes burn after I'd worn the mask for a while, so I had to unmask sooner than I'd planned. Still, my unexpected arrival went really well.
I will note that there is something very strange about wearing a lifelike mask. Looking at myself in the mirror was a bit of a jolt. I would never have recognized myself.
And yes, before some of you ask, there are pictures, but they were taken with a film camera, not a digital one. When the pics get back I'll borrow them and scan them. For now you'll just have to imagine me as the grounds keeper for Hogwart's.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

And Speaking of Tarzan...


Here's my newest Lord of the Rings Online avatar, Greystokke. His character class is Warden which means spears and javelins are his primary weapons. Note that in this shot he is armed with spear and knife. I made him look as much like the Lord of the Jungle as I could. His eyes are even gray. Like Kharrn, Greystoke is actually wearing armor (and boots) but I have them hidden.

The Evil in Pemberley House


The Evil in Pemberley House, by Philip Jose Farmer and Win Scott Eckert is another one of those books where I sat down to read the first few chapters and ended up reading from cover to cover. It' that entertaining. This is a Wold Newton novel, so if you haven't read my previous posts about Farmer's Wold Newton Universe, you can jump over to the link I'm providing at the bottom of the post for further reading.
Shortly after young Patricia Wildman learns of the accidental death of her father, the world famous crime fighter and scientist Clarke Wildman (Doc Savage) she also learns that she is next in line to inherit her family's British estate, Pemberley House. Yes, this is the same Pemberley from Jane Austen's novel, Pride and Prejudice. It was purchased at some point from one of Mr. Darcy's descendent's by one of Patricia's ancestors. (The Wildman's are also related to Darcy, but that's a long complicated story.)
Pat travels to England and becomes embroiled in a dark, erotic, Gothic adventure that ultimately involves or connects to other such famous Wold Newton family members as Sherlock Holmes, Tarzan, Sexton Blake, Fu Manchu, the Shadow, etc etc. There are other minor references tossed out to everything from The Avengers TV series to Shang-Chi, Master of Kung Fu. Enough stuff to keep even Jess Nevins busy. The connection to the Greystoke family is very strong and often the book seems to have more to do with Tarzan than Doc Savage, especially in the author's notes at the end of the book. Not a bad thing for me.
Anyway, this novel was begun by Farmer and completed by Eckert. I don't know what or how much material Win had to start with but he's done a great job of finishing the novel in a way that I think would have pleased PJF. It reads very much like one of Farmer's own books.
I did wonder about the omission of any mention of Clarke Wildman's cousin, the original Patricia Wildman (Pat Savage). Since this book seems to be linked to Farmer's earlier works, Tarzan Alive, The Adventure of the Peerless Peer, and Doc Savage: his Apocalyptic Life, then presumably the younger Pat's namesake must exist in the continuity.
The book takes place in the early 1970s and the sexual revolution is in full swing. If the characters aren't having sex, they're thinking about it or talking about it. This means this isn't a book for the kids, though the sex scenes aren't terribly graphic, more in line with PJF's A Barnstormer in Oz than with A Feast Unknown. Pemberley is a short book at only a little over 200 pages but there's a lot of stuff packed in there. Pat is very much Doc's daughter with her bronze skin, gold flecked eyes and a tendency to get her shirts ripped to pieces. The cover is an homage to the classic 'girl running away from house" Gothic romances from the 1960s-1970s. All and all a very sharp little book from Subterranean Press. Any fan of Doc Savage, Tarzan, Sherlock Holmes, and/or Philip Jose Farmer will want this one in their library. Oh, and Sexton Blake fans as well, because the second half of the book contains a nifty recreation of one of Blake's Weekly Paper Adventures. Highly recommended.

Check out the Wold Newton page here:

http://www.pjfarmer.com/woldnewton/Pulp.htm

Monday, September 21, 2009

Happy Birthday Mr. Wells

Today is H.G. Well's Birthday. Wells, as every school boy knows, is the author of The War of the Worlds, The Invisible Man, The Food of the Gods, and many many other books, including my personal favorite The Time Machine. I bet I've read the first chapter of The Time Machine fifty times. There's just something about that opening scene where the time traveler and his friends gather around the small model of the time machine prior to the model being sent whirling off into the future that fascinates me. The care with which Wells set up that scene is amazing. It's the thing that pulls the reader into the book and makes him believe that maybe time travel could be possible if one just had the proper mathematics.
If memory serves, I saw the George Pal movie The Time Machine before I read the book, but probably not by much. I read the novel fairly early on. I loved that movie as well and my cousin and I built several full size mock ups of the time machine from plywood and leftover parts from chicken brooders. (My family once raised chickens and there were quite a few big sheet metal structures left over. We tore them apart and built things with them throughout my childhood.) Oh, and Nicolas Meyer's 1979 film Time After Time, which features a time traveling H.G. Wells pursuing Jack the Ripper to present day San Francisco, is another favorite.
Along with Jules Verne, Wells was considered one of the fathers of science fiction and certainly many of the concepts he created have been used over and over through the years. War of the Worlds, The Island of Doctor Moreau, The Shape of Things to Come, The Food of the Gods. Amazing stuff.
I used Wells as a character in a story once and ended up reading a couple of Biographies for research. David C. Smith's H.G. Wells: Desperately Mortal was probably my favorite. Might have to give that a re-read at some point. Anyway, Herbert George Wells remains a classic author all these years later and someone who has given the world much to think about. So Happy Birthday H.G.

Monday, September 14, 2009

It Had to Happen


Well it's official. Starbucks is everywhere, having just opened their first location in Middle Earth. This one's in Bree, though I understand they are looking for a suitable location in the Shire.

Charles Rutledge's Book of Horror

I was talking to my pal Jared about Horror short fiction the other day and it occurred to me that I have read so much of the stuff in recent years, that I could probably edit my own volume of Horror Stories. So I've decided to list the Table of Contents to that fabulous non existent tome, Charles Rutledge's Book of Horror. Now keep in mind, these aren't necessarily what I would consider to be the BEST horror stories ever. But they are some of my favorites and ones I would recommend to others, so that's what I, as editor, would include in my book. I've tried to have a nice cross section of old and relatively new. Feel free to add your own suggestions. Halloween approaches and I'm sure there will be some folks looking for creepy reading material. I've chosen 13 as the unlucky number of stories for obvious reasons.

Ralph Adams Cram/ The Dead Valley

H. P. Lovecraft/ The Dunwich Horror

Karl Edward Wagner/ Sticks

Arthur Machen/ The Great God Pan

Edgar Allan Poe/ The Tell-Tale Heart

Robert E. Howard/ The Black Stone

Joseph Payne Brennan/ The Horror at Chilton Castle

Fitz-James O'Brien/ What Was it?

Robert W. Chambers/ The Yellow Sign

Ray Bradbury/ The Dwarf

Manly Wade Wellman/ The Devil Is Not Mocked

Stephen King/ Crouch End

Ramsey Campbell/ Call First

Monday, Inevitably

Slept even worse that I usually do last night, waking up at 2:00 am and then dozing and waking until I had to get up. I'd like to take a sick day. I have plenty of them. But it's Monday and we know the Monday Rule. I must go to work on Mondays unless I have scheduled vacation or unless I am deathly ill. This doesn't count. So I have showered and shaved and now I must go forth and face the music.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

The Blade Itself

A few posts ago I gave a rave review to Joe Abercrombie's novel, Best Served Cold, calling it possibly the best fantasy novel of the decade. Best was his fourth book, following his First Law trilogy. So of course I had to get around to the First Law books. Last night I finished up the first volume in the trilogy, The Blade Itself.
I liked the book quite a bit, though not as much as Best Served Cold. Being the first of three, Blade has a lot of set up, and a lot of character development. Things are just getting started. However, at this point I'm not really sure where the series is going. There's no major plotline to speak of, just a group of developing subplots. Similarly there's no clear protagonist. It's an ensemble cast. I suppose if one had to pick a "hero" of the book it would be Logen Ninefingers, also known as The Bloody Nine. Logen, and his fellow Northmen barbarians are basically Vikings without ships. In fact, much like in Best Served Cold, Abercrombie's fantasy world has a very European feel to it. I like that. It reminds me of Robert E. Howard, who used a lot of names and cultures reminiscent of people and places from history. Anyway, Logen and the boys are barbarians, so you know I'm glad to have them around.
Oddly enough, the most fully realized character in the book is a crippled torturer named Glokta who works for the King's Inquisition. Glokta reminds me of the titular character in Sir Author Conan Doyle's The Adventure of the Crooked Man. Glokta, a dashing handsome soldier, was captured by enemies and systematically tortured for two years, leaving him a crippled wreck of a man. Now he dishes out the one thing he is intimately familiar with, pain. He's understandably bitter. But over the course of the book, as the reader spends a lot of time in Glokta's point of view, he or she comes to see flashes of the man Glokta was. He's a brilliant character and Abercrombie uses him well.
Another thing that separates The Blade Itself from Best Served Cold is the use of magic. I mentioned that there was virtually no magic in Best, but in Blade we get several different wizards and some other examples of actual magic at work. Readers of more traditional fantasy will probably be more comfortable with The Blade Itself than with Best Served Cold. It's still a darker, edgier take on fantasy tropes but it's not quite as over the top as Best.
Abercrombie gets some comparisons to George R.R. Martin, mostly I think because his characters are very complex and because he's willing to kill off main characters without warning. I've never been able to read Martin, so I can't really comment on that. Anyway, I'll be very interested in seeing how Abercrombie's writing progresses over the next two volumes. I can tell this is his first book. His voice isn't as assured as it is in the fourth novel. But you can see him finding his way. Next up is Before They Are Hanged. The man has some great titles, eh? I had planned to read something different before starting in on book two of the trilogy, but I was taken enough with The Blade Itself to make me want to jump right into the second volume. I'll let you know what I think.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

The Writing Report

The new improved version of Slavers of Trakor came in at 6408 words. Aside from some minor grammar tweaks which I'll probably catch on the re-read, this should be the final version.
I have to say, that in the last three stories that I've written, The Dweller in the Tower, The Silent History, and Slavers, I've done more rewriting than I've ever done on previous stories. I never used to do multiple drafts. Part of that has been learning to write effectively in the third person. But the main part, I think, has been paying more attention to the actual craft of writing. I write mostly because I enjoy it, so if something wasn't as polished as it needed to be, I usually just let it go. Lately, as I've been mulling the idea of trying a novel again, I've been trying to take the work a bit more seriously. Not TOO seriously, since the day I stop having fun is the day I stop writing, but still I am trying to make myself a better writer. It's a long process.

Monday, September 07, 2009

With a Little Help From My Friend

As you may recall, a couple of posts ago, I had consigned my sword & planet short story Slavers of Trakor to the nether realms of slightly wonky stories. Figured maybe I could come back to it in a few months and fix it, But, as fate would have it, last night I was talking to my pal Laura, a real honest to gosh novelist, and she said to send it to her. So I did and she sent it back today with a bunch of notes and suggestions about how to fix it. And she nailed the main structural problem that I couldn't quite grasp. So this afternoon I've been Mr. rewrite. I've hammered together a mostly finished version, which will still need a little editing, but for the most part it's done. And it's much much better than it was and now I'm happy with it. The end. Go Laura. You're the best.

Oh, and in case any of you were worried about the other story, A Candle for Miraj, I have decided it works better as a sword & sorcery story, which is how the idea was originally conceived. And given its origins, he said cryptically, that's hardly surprising. More on that later.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Writing Report

1087 words of a projected 6000-7500 words done on A Candle for Miraj. This one strikes me as better than Slavers of Trakor from the get go but we'll see what I think when I've gotten a bit more done. Already had a nifty fight scene and coming up on a big dialog scene and I always enjoy writing dialog. The ending is a little nebulous yet but I'll burn that bridge when I get there.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Starting Over

Well despite the fact that I like certain aspects of my sword & planet short story, Slavers of Trakor, I have decided, after much editing and rewriting, that it isn't suitable for its intended purpose. Basically the story structure is weak. Therefore I have begun another s&p story today, with the working title of A Candle for Miraj. The new story features the same protagonist and the same world as Slavers so a lot of my work is already done in terms of world building and such. I already know a lot more about Trakor than I did when I began Slavers and I'm keeping Candle in continuity with Slavers in case I can ever think of a way to salvage the earlier story. But hey, I said I would finish Slavers and I did. And I'll finish the new one too.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Reading Report

This weekend I read Jeffery Deaver's mystery/thriller Roadside Crosses and S.M. Sterling's SF novel, Dies the Fire. Neither impressed me enough to get an actual review here. Both had interesting premises and both didn't live up to them as far as I'm concerned. Then I began a biography of Renaissance era soldier of fortune John Hawkworth. Liking that much better. Goes right in with last weeks reading of a general history of the Renaissance in Italy. Fascinating stuff.
Fiction-wise I'm running dangerously low. I'll probably start Joe Abercrombie's The Blade Itself pretty soon, the first in his First Law trilogy. I'll pick up Robert B. Parker's Rough Weather in paperback this week, but I've already blogged about that just below. New Repairman Jack, Ground Zero, should hit soon. Beyond that, the pickings look slim just now in the fiction world. May have to do a few more re-reads of older stuff. We'll see.

Monday, August 24, 2009

A Savage Place

Last year's Spenser novel, Rough Weather, was the first Robert B. Parker Spenser that I didn't buy in hardback in not quite thirty years. That's because I simply didn't enjoy the previous two Spencers. Maybe the previous three. So I decided to just wait for the paperback. I haven't given up on Bob by a long shot. I've raved about his recent westerns and I gave a glowing review of his young adult novel, Chasing the Bear, earlier this year. But it was Spenser, the long running private eye series that introduced me to Parker and I used to eagerly await each year's new release. Then, about ten years back, the books started to be kind of hit or miss, with way too many missing. I'd really enjoy one, then the next one or two would be so so. Finally there were two clunkers in a row and I began to wonder why I was paying hardback price for these things. So last year, though it was very difficult to walk by a new Spenser novel in the bookstores, I let it go.
This weekend, feeling nostalgic for the days when Parker couldn't miss with me, I pulled out the 1981 Spenser novel, A Savage Place. In this one, Spenser heads for Hollywood to protect a television reporter named Candy Sloan, who is looking into a film studio's possible mob ties. She's had some threats and she needs someone to act as a bodyguard while she continues to investigate. Things heat up quickly and soon Spenser is hip deep in murder, gunplay, and fisticuffs.
And you know something? I still love this book. It's a quick read, barely 200 pages in paperback, and it's classic Parker. Author Ross MacDonald once said that the private eye hero was less a character than a window for the reader. The world is viewed through the protagonist's eyes, and while his actions may act as a catalyst to set things in motion, he is ultimately more observer than participant. That was probably true of MacDonald' s hero, Lew Archer, but it's not the case with Spenser. Spenser becomes emotionally involved in his cases, and perhaps in this one more than most. Though Susan Silverman is the love of Spenser's life, he definitely shares something with Candy Sloan, which makes the novel's tragic end a hammer blow to the normally unflappable private eye. Spenser does indeed find himself in A Savage Place. (The title comes from Coleridge's poem Kubla Khan.)
Perhaps it's not fair to compare some of the later, pared down Spensers with A Savage Place. It's a darker, grittier book than the majority of the others and as such is atypical of the series. But it seems that other, older novels, such as Looking For Rachel Wallace and the classic Early Autumn (my very favorite) still shine brighter. Maybe that's just me. You can never discover something twice or regain the enthusiasm of an early love.
The paperback of Rough Weather hits the shelves next week, and I will pick it up and give it a read. Who knows? Maybe this will be one of the hits instead of one of the misses. If so, I can always pick up the hardback as a remainder. And if not, I can re-read some of the old Spenser novels yet again.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Sunday Morning

Stayed up way too late last night, questing with some of my Lord of the Rings Online friends, so I got up later than usual. Now I'm sitting here with the windows open, having just consumed a four cheese omelet and some sausage and now finishing off some shortbread with my coffee. It's a cool morning out there, with maybe just a tinge of fall, but I won't think about that. Fall makes me restless, so I should try and put it off, though it is indeed my favorite season of the year.
Picked up a good book on the Renaissance in Italy yesterday and read about half of it. I find it fascinating to see all the religious, social, political, and geographic circumstances that had to collide to create that period of rebirth. Plus, the Italian city-states interest me right now for writerly reasons I won't go into.
The cats are still here. Owing to various and complicated events in Trish's life, they may be with me permanently. That's fine with me. Bruce is sitting on the window ledge watching the birds in the tree closest to my apartment. Amelia is drowsing on the floor just behind me, She's been here long enough now that her standoffish ways have mostly vanished, and now, like her brother, whatever room I'm in is the rooms she wants to be in.
I've no real plans for the day. I did all my running around yesterday so I'll probably just hang out. Might read. Might write. Might draw. Might not. We'll see. Happy Sunday.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Conan, Kirby, and Tales of Asgard

I was lamenting the other day, along with some other comics fans, that my hero, Jack Kirby, had never drawn an issue of Conan. Jack did a cover for Giant Size Conan #5 which is pretty cool, but Conan's face was redrawn in the printed version by John Romita Sr. so the final cover isn't pure Kirby. Romita also inked a cover Jack had done for one of the Marvel Calendars on which Conan appeared, and pretty much obliterated most of Jack's style. Not an easy thing to do. There's at least one pin-up of a barbarian that Jack drew which may be Conan. It shows up a lot on the internet. Anyway, that's pretty much it for Kirby and Conan.
So does that mean we never got to see how Jack would have handled a Sword & Sorcery comic? Nope. Fortunately for us, Jack drew a back-up feature in Thor called Tales of Asgard. Initially a feature which retold the Norse myths in comic book form, it eventually became a showcase for Kirby to draw the adventures of Thor in Asgard, presumably before he came to Earth as a super-hero. See in Asgard EVERYBODY is superhuman, so Thor's adventures are more like those of Conan. He fights monsters. He rides horses. He engages in massive battles as only Kirby could draw them, and he fights alongside three fellow Asgardian heroes, the Warriors Three, who are armed with swords and daggers and maces. And oh yes, he fights sorcerers too. It is the stuff of high adventure and gives a good idea of how Jack might have handled Conan. Of course, some people think the first five or so issues of Conan the Barbarian that Barry (Pre-Windsor) Smith drew are a good example as well, since Smith's early work is very much in the Kirby mode, but it's ersatz Kirby. ToA is the real thing. I was looking over some of the Asgard stories this weekend in Volumes one, two, and three of Marvel's Essential Thor and really enjoying them. I kind of wish someone would put together a volume of all the Tales and nothing else. And come to think of it, Marvel is currently reprinting Tales in newly colored newsstand comics. Me, I prefer the black and white version so I can see all the Kirby Magic.
There's also a one-off Kirby comic called Atlas, which a lot of folks point to as an example of Kirby sword & sorcery, but it always struck me as being closer to a Steve Reeves Hercules movie. Still, it does have sort of an S&S feel to it. So no, we never got a Kirby issue of Conan, but there's some stuff out there that comes tantalizingly close.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Writing Report Redux

Okay, I've finished 'Slavers of Trakor' for the second time, and this time saved it in numerous places. Yeesh. Came in at 7084 words in first draft, so about the right size. It came out a little more downbeat than I had expected, but there's a lot of fighting and action and aliens and monsters. I do like it, though it will need some editing. Anyway, putting it aside for a few days so I can think about other things.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Watch The Guild


One of the members of my Kinship in Lord of the Rings Online put up a recommendation on our webpage forums for the web based comedy series, The Guild. I went over to have a look and sat down and watched the entire first season. This is a funny funny series, especially for online gamers and it stars Felicia Day, the actress who did such a great job playing Penny in Doctor Horrible's Sing Along Blog. The series follows the adventures of a bunch of MMORPG gamers who meet in real life. The finale of season one is a Boss Battle which is an absolute classic.
I followed some links to Felecia's web page and then to her blog and was rather surprised to find that she also created and wrote the series and that she is a big online gamer herself. She also reads a ton of fantasy books and she gave a rave review for Joe Abercrombie's Best Served Cold which I also went on and on about a few posts ago. Felicia is now officially my favorite actress. Check out The Guild at:

http://www.watchtheguild.com/

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Wilson, Wexford, and Wally Wood


So what have I been up to this weekend? Well Friday was my father's birthday so I took he and my mom to breakfast this morning. That was fun. I finished my Sword & Planet short story but through some computer error I lost the last five pages right after I finished them. That was less fun. I hate having to write something over and will actually have to wait a few days before I do so in order to be able to come at it fresh.
I read F. Paul Wilson's next to the next to the last Repairman Jack book, By the Sword. Not my favorite of the series, I have to say. The plot seemed more involved with secondary characters than with Jack, and truthfully I didn't care much about most of the secondary characters. Oh well. At least Jack finally meets Glaeken, the former barbarian from prehistory, a bit more civilized now after being alive for over 15,000 years and the guy who was in at the beginning of the Earth's battle with Rasalom the Adversary. I find it a lot of fun that the genesis of Wilson's six book Adversary Saga and close to twenty Repairman Jack books is a little sword & sorcery story called Demonsong.
Anyway, I also began Ruth Rendell's newest Inspector Wexford mystery, Not in the Flesh, but decided about three chapters in that I wasn't in the mood for a whodunit, so I put it aside for later. Then I switched to non fiction. A comment that Wally Wood friend and biographer Bhob Stewart made to one of my older posts made me decide I wanted to pull out Bhob's book, Against the Grain: Mad Artist Wallace Wood, and give it a re-read. I did and I still recommend it as a major book for anyone interested in the history of comic books. It's not only a good biographical study of Wood, but it also contains an enormous amount of information about the history of comics, especially some of the lesser known companies such as Avon, and about the famous EC Science Fiction comics.
On the reread, the chapter that fascinated me the most was a long conversation between Stewart, Bill Pearson, Nick Cuti, and several other of Wood's friends and colleagues in which they share memories of Wood. In some ways Wood's story is a tragic tale of a man who was his own worst enemy, but jeez was he a talent. No one, but no one, could do the things with a brush and a bottle of ink that he could. Back when I was learning to draw I spent a lot of time studying Wood's art. I can't ink worth a darn, but I still learned a lot about drawing. I can still see Wood's influence in the way I draw profiles and my women still have some Wood influence as well. In fact a friend of mine, on seeing some of my early work years ago, noted that I "Drew men like Kirby and women like Wally Wood." That's less apparent these days as I have assimilated many other influences, but it's still there to some degree. I used to keep a copy of Wood's 22 Comic Panels that Never Fail pinned to my drawing board, and when I was working in commercial art I kept a sign stolen from Wood on the wall beside my desk which read "Never Draw What You Can Copy, Never Copy What You Can Trace, and Never Trace What You Can Cut Out And Paste Down. Makes me wonder what Wood could have done with photoshop. Anyway, I highly recommend Stewart's book. Still available from TwoMorrows Publishing, the fine people who bring you The Jack Kirby Collector.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Writing Report III

5242 words on 'Slavers of Trakor' (which may not be the final title) with one major scene to go. I was told I could go over the 6000-7500 word limit if I needed to, but I think it will come in under 7500 words. I think...

Made My Day

Stopped by my local Publix grocery store today, only to find that they had added a small selection of British foods including my very favorite UK candy, The Galaxy Bar. Wooo! Formerly I had to go to a Farmer's Market to get them. Now they are just up the street. My day is made.