Thursday, December 02, 2010

On the Way

The picture that accompanies this post is of the latest two offerings from the inestimable Robert E. Howard Foundation. The REH Foundation is responsible for many of the more esoteric items in my collection, including the three volume Collected Letters of Robert E. Howard and The Last of the Trunk, a book which collects most of Howard's unpublished and incomplete stories that no one had ever collected before. (REH kept his old manuscripts in a large trunk.) They also leap in to fill gaps left by other publishers. Last year when Del Rey published their excellent collection of El Borak stories, the REH Foundation put out a companion book which featured all the fragments, early versions, and related El Borak stories that Del Rey left out. Great stuff.
The latest two books collect a lot of Howard's pulp material that the average reader probably isn't aware of. Everyone knows Conan and Kull and Solomon Kane. Those who delve a bit deeper might know Bran Mak Morn and Cormac Mac Art. But it takes a pretty serious REH fan to be familiar with Steve Harrison and Kathulos.
Kathulos or the Master or the Scorpion, is also the titular character in Skull-Face, REH's take on the yellow peril pulp novel and his homage to Sax Rohmer's devil doctor, Fu Manchu. Skull-Face is one of Howard's longer stories and will probably be the anchor in the book Tales of Weird Menace. Weird Menace was a sub genre in the pulp magazines. Sort of a cross between the hero pulps of the day and horror,(with the occasional detour into the 'spicy' pulps)the covers for the Weird Menace books usually featured some scantily clad dame in danger from a leering madman, often a criminal mastermind. There are actually a couple of stories in this collection that I haven't read, and a ton of fragments and such, so I'm really looking forward to this book.
Steve Harrison's Casebook collects all the stories and fragments featuring Howard's hardboiled detective, Steve Harrison. Howard didn't care for mystery fiction, could barely stand to read it in fact, but he was trying to find other markets besides Weird Tales, 'splashing the field' as he called it. Oddly enough, though he didn't seem to hold his own crime fiction too highly, REH was ahead of his time in that what he mostly wrote instead of whodunits were stories of suspense, which is a major category on the mystery scene these days. There are easily as many 'thrillers' put out every year as whodunits and more of those make it to the best seller list than any other mystery subgenre. Howard would have fit right in with Lee Child, James Patterson, and the lot. I've blogged before about one of Howard's Harrison stories, Names in the Black Book, and it's really an adventure yarn featuring a PI, much more Mike Hammer than Miss Marple. It's interesting to note, since these two volumes are being published simultaneously, that there's really a good bit of crossover, since Harrison often comes up against his own Fu Manchu-like enemy, Erlik Khan.
Anyway, both Cliff and I have preordered both books (there will only be 150 copies printed of each) which are supposed to ship towards the end of January. A final note, the covers to these books were painted by Jim and Ruth Keegan, a husband and wife team of vastly talented artists who have done quite a few REH related covers and illustrations and who do the wonderful comic strip Two-Gun Bob, which tells vignettes from the life of Robert E. Howard. To see the paintings without text, and to view tons more artwork, head over to their blog, via the link provided at the bottom of this post. I'm throwing in a link to the Robert E. Howard foundation too at no extra charge.


jpfife said...

I'm interested in 'Steve Harrison’s Casebook' as there seem to be a lot of stories there I haven't read but buddy ell the postage is steep.

Charles R. Rutledge said...

The Harrison stories are a lot of fun. Well worth getting. I think I've read all but one of them, though not the fragments.