Thursday, February 26, 2009

After King Kong Fell

I learned this morning of the death of author Philip Jose Farmer. If you've been reading this blog you know what a huge fan and admirer of Farmer I am. I've gone on at length about A Feast Unknown, Lord of the Trees, and Tarzan Alive. I've talked about Times Last Gift, Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life, The Dark Heart of Time, and about all things Wold Newton, because the Wold Newton Universe was Farmer's grandest game and he invited us all to play along.
But my favorite of Farmer's writing is a short story called 'After King Kong Fell.' It's exactly what it sounds like, a story about the events occurring immediately after the giant ape from Skull Island took his fatal plunge from the Empire State Building. But amazingly it's also about a life changing moment, a childhood ending moment in a boy's life. And that's what Farmer did. He wrote stories about people and about how amazing occurrences entered their lives. But along with that startling look at humans and human nature he took us to the gritty streets of New York and showed us the huge, broken body of Kong and he made you see it. I remember reading the story when I was eleven or twelve and becoming amazed and excited as Farmer described some of the people in the crowd of onlookers. One man had a hawk nose and strange burning eyes. (The Shadow. Has to be the Shadow.) Another had bronze skin and hair of darker bronze. (It's Doc! OMG it's Doc!)
Broken down, some of his plots sound like overblown fan fiction. Tarzan meets Doc Savage and they fight. The Shadow and Doc Savage show up after Kong Falls. Sherlock Holmes and Tarzan fight the Nazis. A barnstorming pilot from the real world lands in Oz. But Farmer's skill as a writer lifts those stories out of all that and into the realm of serious fiction. Because in Farmer's stories, these archetypes become people. Human beings.
However, I think that Farmer loved Doc and Tarzan and Holmes every bit as much as I do and as so many of us do. I think that even when he was turning out his provocative and daring prose, he still felt that same excitement at putting Doc and the Shadow in the crowd that I felt in seeing those characters there. His writing has that kind of energy to it.
I haven't touched upon Farmer's major science fiction series Riverword or any of his other SF novels. I'll leave that to others. I just wanted to say a few words about a story that blew me away when I was just a kid. So thank you Mr. Farmer for 'After King Kong Fell' and for all your wonderful, thought provoking, daring stories. You'll be missed.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Well after more than three months of living with me, Trish's cat Amelia decided that she should start sleeping on my bed at night along with her brother Bruce. So now I have two cats sleeping on or beside me at night. Fortunately for them, I don't move around a lot in my sleep. But let me tell you something. Two cats generate a lot of heat. Don't bother with an electric blanket. Just get cats. Yeesh.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Relying on the Kindness of Strangers

Had an odd email from an eBay seller last night. He was letting me know that he'd shipped the Tarzan comic books I'd bought, which was fine, but the rest of his email was something like this.
"Now as soon as you get your stuff be sure to go and leave me positive feedback. And not just the regular feedback but the detailed feedback and be sure and give me five stars in all categories so that I get the top rating."
This strikes me as a bit presumptuous. My basic take on eBay is this. If you ship things out in a timely manner and the condition of your item is roughly approximate to what you said it was then you will get positive feedback. I have never left anyone negative feedback, actually. However I don't usually do the five start rating thing. Just takes too long. If someone does a really good job I will write in the comments section things like: "Fast shipping. Product as described. Friendly emails. Very pleased."
Anyway, this guy is probably trying to build a rep and needs the rating, but his email did seem rather pushy, like asking a favor of a complete stranger. Still if the comics are in good condition I'll probably take the time and give him the detailed feedback. I try to be a mensch.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Where Would You Go?

Over at one of the Yahoo Groups that I belong to, a member mentioned the Woody Allen short story The Kugelmass Episode, which is about a bored middle age Jewish man who finds that through a magic cabinet he can enter the world of any book, play or short story. He ends up having an affair with Madame Bovary and various complications ensue. The club member was bringing up the story to ask the hypothetical and fun question, if you could get access to the magic cabinet, what book or story would you enter?
Now I had to give that some thought. If I jumped into a Conan story I'd probably just get killed, so I didn't think that was a good idea. Same thing with most fantasy and SF. I finally decided that I'd leap into one of the Sherlock Holmes stories, probably the Six Napoleons, so I could join Holmes and Watson in dashing around Victorian London in search of a dangerous killer and a stolen treasure. Of course Holmes would be suspicious of me because he would deduce that there was something odd about me but he wouldn't be able to figure out what it was. Actually that might make a good story itself. Hmmm.
Anyway, I'm extending the question to the book lovers among you. If you could enter any piece of fiction, what would it be? I'd stay clear of Madame Bovary though if I were you.

Gone A Viking

I'm back on a Viking kick, studying the Norse and their culture. Like many of my interests this one remains in the background and sometimes gets pushed forward by one thing or another. This weekend I watched the 2 hour Nova special on the rowdy Danes and learned a few things I didn't know. Then I went back to reading some of the stories from the Edda and the Icelandic Sagas.
I'd like to claim some higher purpose for all this study of history, but I suppose the thing that fascinates me about the Norsemen is that they're probably the closest historical approximation of Conan and his ilk. Though far from being the ignorant barbarians they were portrayed as for years, there's no question that the Vikings were a dangerous and sometimes ruthless bunch, though in all fairness, given the times in which they lived, they probably weren't much worse than any of the other cultures around them. It's not like the Anglo Saxons were a friendly, peace loving group.
They were also amazing artists and craftsmen and hardy explorers and traders, and their ship building technology was way ahead of just about anyone in their time period. The term Viking is really something of a misnomer, since technically they were only Vikings when they were raiding or "Gone a viking.' as they put it. Norse is perhaps a better term for the Medieval Scandinavians but Viking has become the popular and accepted term, so Vikings it is.
I keep thinking I'll write some fiction with Vikings, but I'm still assimilating the information, and I should point out that I'm not reading all this stuff for reference or research. It just interests me. I usually study a subject until I reach the point where I could write a text book on it and then I move on to something else. Later, if I do use the background for a story, people will praise my research and I'll be like, what research? I just knew all this stuff from my reading for pleasure.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Face Off

I deleted my Facebook page today. If you're one of the folks who was kind enough to Friend me, thanks and don't take it personally. I found that I just wasn't cut out for Facebook.

The Shining Pyramid and The Little People

Continuing with my reading of the works of Arthur Machen, I read The Shining Pyramid, another of his stories praised by both H.P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard. Howard, in fact, wrote a sort of sequel to it, but I'll get to that. In the Shining Pyramid, a gentlemen named Vaughn comes to London to consult his learned friend Dyson about some odd symbols formed with bits of flint that Vaughn has found on his property. Dyson, at first disinterested, becomes a bit more avid after seeing one of the flints and finding it to be an arrowhead of ancient design.
Vaughn also tells Dyson of the disappearance of a 'local beauty' from the isolated country village where Vaughn resides. Dyson, as Watson would say, begins to sense some horrible outline and agrees to accompany Vaughn back to his country home. No more flint symbols are seen, but Vaughn and Dyson find crude drawings of strangely deformed eyes low on the bricks of an old wall on Vaughn's property. Dyson, acting rather like Sherlock Holmes, begins to form a theory which he keeps to himself. He explores the neighboring woods and a few days later asks Vaughn to accompany him to a sort of natural amphitheater deep in the dark wood. There they are witness to the horrible rites of a mass of stunted malformed savages, the remains of some ancient Celtic tribe who were driven underground in some forgotten age. Suddenly they see the flash of white arms amidst the writhing creatures and realize what has become of the missing girl. She is sacrificed before their eyes. Now truthfully they would have had little chance of rescuing her, but the cold blooded way in which they don't even try kind of threw me. Dyson tries to mitigate this near the end of the story by saying that since the girl had been the prisoner of the creatures for a couple of weeks she was probably better off dead, but gee...
Anyway, it made me wonder if Machen was ever married or involved with women because female characters have come to horrible ends in all of his stories I've read so far and the males don't seem to care much. Could be the general Victorian attitude toward women but it did make me wonder if old Arthur might have had some issues.
But being me, the first thing I thought was, if I had been there I'd have tried to save her, and of course that made me think of writing a story with a similar plot but having the male protagonists be a bit more chivalrous. Then I remembered that I'd read in some article or other that Robert E. Howard had written a story called The Little People that was directly linked to The Shining Pyramid. Though I'd read Howard's other two Machen influenced tales, People of the Dark and the classic Worms of the Earth, I'd never gotten to The Little People. I knew I had the story in a couple of collections, including the recent Del Rey volume of REH's horror stories, so I pulled out that book and jumped right in.
The story actually begins with a young American girl reading The Shining Pyramid and then tossing the book away, exclaiming the story to be a silly fairy tale. Her brother tries to explain that Machen's story is based on evidence that there may have been a race of small savage people upon whom legends of fairies and little folk are based, but the sister, a thoroughly modern type, isn't having any. Now as fate would have it, the siblings are vacationing in England, staying at a small inn in the remote countryside near a circle of druid stones. The stone circle is reputed to be haunted and the sister decides that she will show her brother by visiting the stone circle late at night. Her brother forbids it, so of course, being a younger sister, she sneaks out anyway and runs into, you guessed it, stunted, cave dwelling savages right out of The Shining Pyramid.
Meanwhile, the girl's brother has been awakened (apparently by the ghost of a druid) and hurries off into the night just in time to see his sister surrounded by the little people. Does he shrink away as did Machen's heroes? Hell no. This is a Robert E. Howard story and he wades right in with flailing fists and starts busting heads.
And I'd be willing to bet, that just like me, Bob Howard read The Shining Pyramid and thought that if he had been out in those dark woods under a yellow moon, that he would have tried to save the girl. And I bet that's why he wrote The Little People. So thanks, Bob, for saving me the effort.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Thought for a Friend

Whenever I think of the way the world treats people, I always think of what Hemingway said about being strong in the broken places in A Farewell to Arms. Sometimes it helps.

" If people bring so much courage to this world the world has to kill them to break them, so of course it kills them. The world breaks every one and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good, and the very gentle, and the very brave impartially."

Zack and Miri Make a Porno

Watched Kevin Smith's most recent movie, Zack and Miri Make a Porno, this weekend. The premise of this one is that a couple of underachievers get into serious financial straights and decide that the best way out is to make a low budget porn film. Now you can imagine that by the plot's very nature that this is going to make for a fairly raunchy film and it does. Smith apparently had to go to great lengths to get an R rating instead of an NC17.
However, the truth is that behind all the foul language and dirty jokes, Zack and Miri is really just a sweet little love story about two friends who don't realize that they love one another. It also finally proves that Smith can make an entertaining and funny movie without using his signature Clerks characters. (The actors who portray Jay and Randall in the Clerks films are in the movie but as different characters.) The rest of the characters are a group of slackers and misfits, but by the end of the movie they have come together as a sort of family, another theme dear to Smith's heart.
Elizabeth Banks, who plays Miri, brings a vulnerability of the role which mitigates a lot of the sleaze of the premise. I'm not sure what the appeal of Seth Rogen is, however. I understand that he's a hot comedy property at the moment, but I didn't find him to be that funny. Might have been the role though, because as Zack he's sort of the viewpoint anchor character of the film. The other actors get most of the zany stuff.
Anyway, I won't say that I liked this one as much as Clerks II or Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, but Zack and Miri is closer to a mainstream film than most of Kevin Smith's other movies and it still works. Hopefully that means he can break out of the rut he's kind of been forced into by people who only want more Jay and Silent Bob.

The Horror, The Horror...

Continuing my reading of classic horror stories, this weekend I read The Signalman by Charles Dickens and The Black Seal by Arthur Machen. Very different stories but both nice and creepy.
The Signalman begins with an unnamed first person narrator out for a walk in the country. While passing a deep railway cutting (the valley like area in front of a tunnel), he spies a lone signalman standing near the tracks below and hails the man. The signalman's reaction is somewhat odd and the narrator decides to follow a path down to the signal box and talk to the man. It seems that the signalman has recently been seeing a strange apparition and he initially thought the narrator was the ghost appearing yet again. The ghost is a harbinger of sorts because every time it is seen some tragedy occurs. The story progresses from there to a macabre ending that leaves the reader wondering about the exact nature of the ghost.
It's a little odd that I've never read this story before since I'm a big fan of Dickens. Somehow it had slipped through though and in fact, I'd never heard of it until The Doctor mentioned it to Charles Dickens in an episode of the first season of the new Doctor Who series. I'd been meaning to track it down and fortunately for me it turned up in H.P. Lovecraft's Book of Horror. Yet another reason you should seek out that book on the bargain tables and Barnes & Noble.
And speaking of Lovecraft, The Black Seal is another of Arthur Machen's stories that shows just what a big influence Machen was on old H.P. In this one, a professor comes into possession of a small black stone covered with weird, untranslatable glyphs. He feels this 'black seal' is the key to a theory he has long been developing that the myths of elves and fairies and little people have a sinister root in reality. Tension and terror mount as the professor gathers more and more information that leads him to an isolated country village where people have mysteriously disappeared in the lonely hills. Machen uses various newspaper clippings and letters and such to move the story along and create verisimilitude, much as Lovecraft would later do in stories like The Call of Cthulhu and there's a character that turns out to be the spawn of a not quite human father, rather like Wilbur Whately in my personal favorite Lovecraft story, The Dunwich Horror. And of course, like the protagonist of most Lovecraft stories, the professor follows his obsession to a bad end proving once again that there are things you really shouldn't go looking for.
Not to go all Freudian but I couldn't help but notice that in The Black Seal, just as in The Great God Pan, there are once again terrible repercussions of someone having sex with someone outside their own race, or in this case, species. I don't know if this theme pops up in more of Machen's fiction but in these two tales he does seem to exhibit Victorian attitudes about race, women, sex, and repression. His writing was considered decadent in the late Victorian era, and it still carries considerable power to disturb. Interesting stuff.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Tarzan, Akim, and Zembla


During my frequent Ebay searches for all things Tarzan, I kept coming across a character called Akim. A little research showed that Akim was a long running Tarzan knock off comic produced in Italy and very popular in France and other parts of Europe. Written by Robert Renzi and drawn by Augusto Pedrazza, Akim is the son of a British Consul, who is raised by Gorillas after his shipwrecked parents are killed by jungle beasts. He grows up into sort of a cross between the movie Tarzan and the comic strip version, eventually gaining a wife and an adopted son. The series began in the 1950s and ran for a respectable 756 issues in its original run. There have been numerous specials and reprints since, including some fairly recent Italian paperbacks. I managed to snag a couple of these off Ebay, and while I can't actually read them, the pictures carry the story pretty well. I have a few of the French reprints on the way as well.
While studying Akim I found out that after the adventures of the Italian Tarzan clone became so popular, Editions Lug, a French publisher, hired artist Pedrazza to create their own Tarzan clone, Zembla. Beginning in 1963, Zembla also had a long career and is still being published and reprinted today.
Zembla, at least in the stories that I've seen) is a little more weird than Akim. Zembla has some funny animal sidekicks (Including a kangaroo?!) as well as a human friend who dresses like Mandrake the magician. You can check this out for yourself if you wish, because Hexagon Comics, a division of Black Coat Press has put out English language paperback collections of Zembla and other French comics. I'll include a link to their page at the bottom of this post. They have some other cool titles too. In the meantime I have a few of the actual French issues of Zembla on the way to add to my ERB collection.
Oh, and while getting a copy of the Hexagon Zembla book, I also got a collection of Kabur, a Conan style sword & sorcery comic which is so much fun that it deserves a post of its own. Apparently Zembla and Kabur team up in a couple of issues of Special Zembla. Obviously I need to get my hands on those.
Anyway, both Akim and Zembla are fun Tarzan wannabes with just enough differences to make them interesting. Worth checking out if you don't mind doing a little searching on Ebay.

http://www.hexagoncomics.com/

Thursday, February 05, 2009

I took today off because it's my birthday and I always take my birthday off when I can. So far I've been out to breakfast with mom and dad and gone book browsing at Barnes & Noble. Found a nifty little book on the ancient world in the bargain books section. Anyone interested in history should always check the bargain tables. Seems like many history books end up there after a while.
Anyway, not sure what I'll do for the rest of the day. My basic plan is to only do things I want to do. No housework or anything like that. Just chillin. Relaxin. Chillaxin.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Snowy London

I've mentioned before that London England is my favorite city in the world. Were I a wealthy man I would live there at least part of the year. So as you can imagine. I've been absolutely fascinated by the weather reports as London has been blanketed by at least six inches of snow, with more forecast. I've been watching the videos from the BBC which include children building snowmen in the parks and at least one stalwart young man snowboarding down some of the city's steeper streets, dodging parked cars and trash cans.
I certainly sympathize with anyone who is trapped in the airport or stuck away from home, but at the same time I won't deny that I'm enjoying all the pictures and videos of snowbound London, strangely beautiful with its Gothic architecture covered in white. My screensaver is a lovely shot of Big Ben's clock tower, laden with snow and standing sentinel under a pewter colored sky.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Bloodline

Finished up Bloodline, the next to the last (so far) Repairman Jack book by F. Paul Wilson. The supernatural content in this one was pretty low and in fact the plot seemed more like an SF story than anything else. It begins when jack is hired by a woman whose daughter is dating a much older man. The woman thinks there is something sinister about the guy and wants Jack to find out what it is. It's not Jack's usual kind of case, but he's still recovering from a loss in his own personal life and so he agrees to try and help the woman.
Turns out, of course, that the guy is far more than just a little creepy and soon Jack is up to his ears in the sort of violence that he knows how to deal with. This isn't one of my favorite RJ books as it mostly seems to cover old territory. Jack runs afoul of a cult and some shady scientists working on genetic engineering. Seen that sort of thing in previous RJ books. As Wilson approaches the final few RJ books (he says there is definitely a finite number) leading up to his horror novel Night World, he is pulling together all the threads from the RJ books and the connected six book Adversary series. This makes the last few RJ books in particular all seem part of one big book. I've no problem with that but it does make for some repetitive scenes from book to book.
Still Bloodline has a high action content and things are never boring with Jack around and there is one fairly major revelation about Jack's background in this one. Finishing Bloodline leaves me with only the newest RJ book, By the Sword, to go. I stretched the Jack books out as long as I could, but they were just so entertaining that I couldn't make them last longer. I won't be able to stay away from By the Sword for long either because it contains a long awaited meeting between Jack and one of Wilson's other characters.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Sorry that I haven't been overly bloggy this past week. Just haven't had much to say. I'm currently reading F. Paul Wilson's Bloodlines and assorted short fiction. I went out used book shopping this morning but didn't do any good. Um...that's about it. I'll try to be more entertaining later on.