Monday, May 17, 2010

The Romance of Certain Old Books

I needed to check the time table in J.R.R Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings over the weekend. I'm working on something that required that I know where certain members of the fellowship of the ring were at various times. Fortunately, Tolkien supplied a timeline in one of his Appendices in Volume Three: The Return of the King.
Of course in order to do this I had to dig out my copies of Lord of the Rings. It wasn't that they were put away in some box, somewhere. I just have so many paperbacks that they are stacked two deep on most of my shelves and I wasn't exactly sure where the three volumes of LotR were. I had to make my way back, past Edgar Rice Burroughs and Gardner Fox and a bunch of Doc Savage adventures, and there they were, the three Ballantine editions that I had originally purchased back in 1978. I'm not sure where I got them. It was probably at Waldenbooks or B. Dalton in either Cumberland Mall or Perimeter Mall. Those were the bookstores I visited the most back in those days.
They don't look too bad for books that are now 32 years old. In fact someone I was showing them to noted that the spines aren't even cracked, even though I've read them many times. That's true of most of my books. I rarely crack a spine, holding the book open enough that I can read it, but not far enough to crease the spine. However the pages are yellow and some of the corners are slightly bent. The colors on the covers, which are illustrations by Tolkien himself, are still bright. You can tell they've been around but they've held up well.
See, even though I got the books in 1978, I didn't actually finish reading them until 1980. Having grown up on a steady diet of the works of Robert E. Howard, Fritz Leiber, Lin Carter, and the other sword & sorcery authors, I found the Lord of the Rings a bit slow. In fact, I think it took me three tries to get past the Shortcut to Mushrooms. I know that I carried the books with me to my aunt's house in Florida one year and didn't read them. Eventually though, I managed to get past Farmer Maggot. Once I hit Rivendell I was hooked and tore through all the way to Mordor.
Anyway, it's nice to still have my original copies. A lot of my old books were lost or given away over the years, especially the fantasy/SF stuff, which I stopped reading for a long period not long after finishing LotR. Somehow I managed to hold on to the trilogy and the Hobbit too. It's fun for me to see them whenever I come across them, sort of like meeting an old friend in some out of the way place. It's just nice that they are the same books that I held when I was 16 or so. That's one thing you won't get with a Kindle. Think I'll put them in the outer stack of books this time when they go back on the shelf. I find that I've missed them

Monday, May 10, 2010

The Passing of a Legend

Cliff called me a few minutes ago to let me know that Frank Frazetta passed away today at age 82. Sitting here now, I'm remembering not only what a massive talent Frazetta was, but how much his work meant to me as a child. Frazetta was a major part of my fascination with sword & sorcery. His images of Conan are still the ones I think about as I read the stories, despite the legion of fine artists who have followed him in illustrating the adventures of the big Cimmerian. But more than that, I think Frazetta defined what most of us think of when we think of sword & sorcery. The power and the savagery and the sensual nature. That's what sword & sorcery looks like.
I can remember buying the Ballantine Art of Frank Frazetta books and just sitting there and staring at the paintings. Some of them were covers of books I had read. Others hinted at stories I'd never heard of and those fired my imagination, making me wonder what events had led to the supreme moment of tension that Frazetta always seemed to depict. Jeez I loved those paintings. My favorite is the cover from the Lancer (later Ace) book titled simply Conan. The painting shows a scene from the Robert E. Howard story Rogues in the House where Conan is leaping onto the back of the ape-like creature Thak, armed with only a knife, which hardly seems enough steel for such a formidable looking foe. A swath of deep red marks the swirling path of the stolen cloak Thak wears.
The cover of Conan the Adventurer is perhaps better known and more iconic, with Conan standing amidst fallen foes while a girl cowers at his feet, but for my money, the cover of Conan was far better. Most of the Edgar Rice Burroughs books I was reading around the same time had Frazetta covers. Dinosaurs, cavemen, saber tooth tigers, and creatures never seen on Earth were all rendered with skill and vitality. In various interviews with Frazetta he said that he often painted those images in a sitting, starting with a blank canvas and pulling an all-niter, not stopping until the painting was complete. He said it was the only way he could get the kind of immediacy and energy that defined his work into his paintings. Looking at the work now, I can believe it.
I could go on and on about Frazetta's art. How no one drew more heroic heroes or more beautiful women or more savage foes or more fearsome monsters. But if you know the name Frazetta, then you know all that already. Enough to say, without exaggeration, that a legend has passed away today. So be at peace Frank, and thanks for all the amazing paintings, from a wild eyed boy of twelve and from the man he became.

Coming Soon

Did I mention that I have a story coming out in an SF anthology this summer? I don't think I did. I talked about writing it last year but didn't mention its eventual fate. It's a Sword and Planet adventure and will appear in the anthology Strange Worlds. The editor, Jeff Doten, is also the book's illustrator and he's doing a full color painting for each of the nine stories that appear in the book. I've seen mine and it looks nifty. I'll mention more as the publication date gets closer.

Peter O'Donnell

Last year when I was reviewing Madeleine Brent's novel Moonraker's Bride I mentioned that Brent was actually Peter O' Donnell, the creator of Modesty Blaise and I mistakenly reported that O' Donnell was dead, because an article I'd read about Brent stated that O'Donnell's identity had been revealed after his death. As it turned out, O'Donnell was still alive and someone was kind enough to point this out to me. Unfortunately I learned over the weekend that Peter O'Donnell passed away on May 3rd, so this time I'm not premature in lamenting the loss of a great talent. I really enjoyed both the Modesty Blaise comic strip and the series of novels O'Donnell wrote about the character. My brother and I picked up Modesty's and her partner Willie Garvin's use of the term 'signing someone off' for killing. My brother, an expert knife thrower, was very taken with the knife wielding Garvin who preferred a throwing knife to a gun. I heartily recommend The Modesty Blaise novels to anyone who enjoys a good thriller. Modesty, often referred to as a female James Bond, isn't really a spy, but she does occasionally work for the British government. An expert marksman and a deadly hand to hand fighter, she was an kick-ass heroine long before the term was coined. O'Donnell excelled at writing strong female characters and Modesty Blaise has been a major influence on many heroines who have followed, while his Gothic Romance novels are still considered some of the best in that particular sub-genre, doubtlessly because of his heroines.


Over the years, fans of popular fiction, be it books, movies, comics, pulp magazines, or whatever have often played the game of what would happen if this character from this story met that character from that story? This has resulted in countless long and earnest discussions by aficionados and in reams of fan fiction . But when the writers, producers and directors of popular fiction wonder the same thing, what you get are crossovers. Tarzan meets Batman. Alan Quartermain, Mr. Hyde, and the Invisible Man fight Fu Manchu. Robert B. Parker's private eye Spenser teams up with Parker's police chief Jesse Stone and Jesse Stone end's up dating Parker's other PI Sunny Randall. The cast of the Beverly Hillbillies show up on Petticoat Junction. Characters from ST. Elsewhere find their way to the bar from Cheers. Edgar Rice Burroughs' Jason Gridley communicates with Mars, teams up with Tarzan, and visits Pellucidar. Frankenstein's monster fights the Wolfman and Dracula, and Sherlock Holmes meets pretty much everybody sooner or later.
In his new book, Crossovers Volume 1, author Win Scott Eckert does an amazing job of chronicling these kinds of team ups and by amazing I mean he has come up with stuff that even a long time fan boy like me didn't know about. I mean I knew Frankenstein's monster had battled Dracula and Tarzan, but I didn't know the creature had fought Mr. Hyde or visited Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World. I'm only about halfway through Crossovers and I'm already compiling a nice list of books I need to track down. There are crossovers out there I need to read.
Crossovers Volume 1 covers the period from the dawn of time to 1939. Yes, the dawn of time. You'll read about how Lin Carter's Thongor of Lemuria crosses over with H.P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu mythos and how Don Glut's caveman Tragg connects to Glut's own barbarian warrior Dagar the Invincible. I've written here at Singular Points about how Richard Tierney's Simon Magus ( a character from the Bible) met Karl Edward Wagner's Kane (another biblical character. Spell it Cain.) but in Crossovers there are accounts of Simon's connections to Conan the Cimmerian, Red Sonja, and believe it or not, Frank Herbert's Dune novels.
Win Scott Eckert is considered the go to guy for information about the late Phillip Jose Farmer's Wold Newton Universe but the Crossover Universe is much bigger and Crossover shows us that team ups between various literary characters were already coming fast and furious by the time a meteor hit the ground in Wold Newton, Yorkshire in 1795, slightly irradiating two coaches full of travelers (including characters from Jane Austen's books) and creating the generic material for many of the 'supermen' who would appear in fiction over the next several decades. Farmer's concept is well represented but there are many more Crossovers than even Farmer imagined. As I mentioned above, Sherlock Holmes is probably the champ of Crossovers, teaming up with everyone from Doctor Who to Annie Oakley and fighting Fu Manchu, Dracula, and the Martians from War of the Worlds.
Anyway, as you can probably tell, I'm very taken with this book and I think any fan of pop fiction will be as well. It's fascinating reading and just a lot of fun. Crossovers is available from Blackcoat Press (see link at bottom of post) and from Not sure when volume two, which covers 1940 to the future, will be out, but I'm already looking forward to it.