Monday, June 28, 2010

Season's End

Saturday night was the Season Finale of the first series of Doctor Who with Matt Smith as the Doctor. (In the UK that is.) It ended happily is all I'll say, without the angst that accompanied the ends of all four seasons of the first two 'new' Doctors. The style of producer/head writer Steven Moffat is markedly different from his predecessor Russell T. Davies, though Moffat wrote some of the better episodes of Davies's tenure. I watched a few David Tenant episodes over the weekend to compare the approaches. I still like Tenant a lot. His Doctor is more human, as I've said before. Smith seems more like an alien.
The two things I noted about Moffat and Smith's first season were Smith's almost comic portrayal, hearkening back to the days of the Charlie Chaplin like second Doctor, Patrick Troughton, and the emphasis on strong science fiction oriented scripts. Moffat had already been nominated for four prestigious Hugo awards (though he didn't win) for his episodes of the Davies series. Though Doctor Who is usually thought of as an SF show, many of the episodes are pretty weak in actual science fiction. Moffat seems to know his way around a time travel paradox and he has a lot of fun with them in the final episode.
I mentioned in one of my earlier reviews that some episodes did tend to have a lot of plot holes and the final two-parter does take care of some of those. Not all, however. Still, I found Smith's initial season to be a tremendous amount of fun, and I'm looking forward to his second year as the Doctor. In the meantime, I'll pick up the DVD box set later in the year and watch all the extras.

Conan: The Road of Kings

"As one of those who have written Howard pastiches, I feel that I have the right to say that pastiche-Conan is NOT the same as Robert E. Howard's indomitable barbarian. Read such, as it pleases you but don't delude yourself into thinking that this is anymore Robert E. Howard's Conan than a Conan story that you decided to write yourself."

_Karl Edward Wager, 1979


Back in the mid to late 1970s, Robert E. Howard's Conan was hard to come by. Harder than I knew, since I was unaware at the time that even the stories in the LANCER/ACE reprints that didn't have L. Sprague de Camp's name on them had actually been somewhat edited by de Camp. Basically if you didn't have the issues of Weird Tales that the Conan stories originally appeared in, you couldn't get pure Howard. Writer Karl Edward Wagner tried to correct this in 1977 by putting together three volumes of REH Conan taken directly from Weird Tales and copies of Howard's manuscripts. Wagner hoped to get all the unedited Conan into print but wrangling over publishing rights got in the way and things fell apart. Those three volumes are still well worth tracking down, even if you have the more recent Del Rey Conan collections, purely for Wagner's commentary.
However, what you could get, back in the day, were pastiches of Robert E. Howard's characters by writers such as L. Sprague de Camp, Lin Carter, Poul Anderson, Andrew J. Offutt, and the aforementioned Karl Edward Wagner.
Wagner wrote two REH pastiches, Legion From the Shadows, featuring Bran Mak Morn and The Road of Kings, featuring Howard's best known creation, Conan of Cimmeria. I re-read Road of Kings last night, partly because I was in the mood for a dark sword and sorcery tale, and partly because the first time I'd read it, I'd yet to read most of Wagner's other works.
The book is still very good, probably one of the best of the Conan pastiches. (Not that there are that many good ones.) Wagner wisely wrote the book very much in his own style, going for the spirit of Robert E. Howard's work without doing a slavish imitation. Probably the biggest problem faced by pastiche writers is how closely to follow the original. Too close and you end up with a bad imitation, or worse, a parody. Too far and you lose the very things that made the original what it was and thereby pretty much defeat the purpose of pastiche.
Wagner does a fine job of walking that line. He gets the tone right. There are enough mentions of the Hyborian Age world to orient the reader without it feeling like a travelogue. Wagner makes a few clever connections to some of Howard's stories. There's also a cute bit in chapter six where Wagner takes a shot at Red Sonja and her chain mail bikini. (Say it with me again. Robert E. Howard did not create Marvel Comics' Red Sonja.)
Coming back to the book having read almost everything Wagner ever published, I can see a lot of Wagner's trademark flourishes now. There is the brooding atmosphere that hangs over the stories of Wagner's own fantasy hero, Kane. There are sudden and shocking moments of horror. There is the attention paid to classes of society and political motivations that readers of the Kane tales have become accustomed to.
However, by no means is this a Kane story with Conan substituted for Kane. Place Kane in the exact same position in which Conan finds himself and Kane would have taken things in an entirely different direction. At this stage in his career Conan is willing to play his part in a rebellion as military leader. Kane would have taken over the rebellion. The book probably would have been much more bleak as well.
In fact this brings up the one thing I don't like about The Road of Kings. No matter how good a pastiche it is, and I think it a very good one, I'd rather have seen Wagner writing about his own characters. I'd take one more Kane novel by Wagner over a Conan pastiche any day. Still, we have what we have. If you want to spend a little time with a writer who knows he's not Robert E. Howard but tries to deliver a good, well written Conan tale, Road of Kings is worth a look. Just remember Wagner's quote at the top of this post as you read.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Various

Howdy. How is everyone? I'm still extremely busy, both at work and at home so not a lot of reading going on, thus not much to blog about. Last weekend I did re-read F. Paul Wilson's horror novel The Keep, and it's still a winner. Builds tension and suspense very gradually before hammering you with more graphic horror. The Keep is the first book in Wilson's Adversary saga which is comprised of six core books but actually affects most of Wilson's output, including his long running Repairman Jack series. In fact, Jack plays a major role in the final book of the Adversary series, Nightworld. I need to re-read that one again too, but Wilson says he's going to edit and revise it soon, so I may wait for that.
I am at work on the novel as promised, but I want to get a bit further along before I say much about it. I find it best if I don't talk about works in progress until they are well underway and even then I only talk about them in general terms. I've found I can only tell a story once, so if I talk much about it, I won't write it. Also I tend to have a lot of false starts, so often the story I begin isn't remotely like the one I end up with.
There's a new anthology out, Swords and Dark Magic: The New Sword & Sorcery, which I mentioned a while back, and I should have a copy of it by next week. It has a new Elric story by Michael Moorcock and a novella from Joe Abercrombie and a new Black Company story by Glenn Cook. Really looking forward to that one.
Anyway, the weekend looms, so hopefully I'll get some time to read a bit and maybe do one or two other fun things.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Coming in November


As you can probably imagine, I'm looking forward to this one.

Waiting For Worse Things


Back in 1973, David Drake, Jim Groce, and the Late Karl Edward Wagner founded a small publishing firm called Carcosa Press. From 1973 to 1981 Carcosa only published four volumes, one collection each of the works of pulp writers E. Hoffman Price and Hugh B. Cave, and two collections of the pulp stories of Manly Wade Wellman. These books have become very collectible and thus, very expensive over time. Fortunately for me, the inestimable Cliff owned all four and was kind enough to loan them to me.
The volume that really stuck in my mind was Wellman's Worse Things Waiting, a collection of pulp horror with some truly amazing stories. I've talked about my admiration for Wellman before and I still think that he's a vastly overlooked and underrated horror writer. Over the years his work has been adapted for TV and films, including episodes of Lights Out (School for the Unspeakable), the original Twilight Zone (The Valley Was Still) and Night Gallery (The Devil is Not Mocked).
He's probably best known for his novels and short stories about John the Balladeer, a former soldier who wanders the Appalachian Mountains fighting backwoods supernatural menaces with his silver stringed guitar. I think these some of the most original and creepy horror/fantasy stories ever written. Planet Stories has just put out a new edition of the complete John the Balladeer stories called Who Fears the Devil, and you really should go out and buy a copy.
Anyway, Worse Things Waiting was a book I wanted to own, but I couldn't find a decent copy for under a hundred bucks, which was a bit more than I wanted to pay for it. So I did what I usually do. I kept a watch at Ebay and Amazon and waited for someone to post a copy at a lower price. I lucked out last week and someone put up a 'very good' copy for 50 bucks. I ordered it, and sure enough it's a nice copy. A little shelf worn, but a tight spine and clean pages and Wellman's signature tipped in. I was very pleased.
In an odd coincidence, the first story I re-read was one called 'Up Under the Roof' and while doing a little web search on Wellman I learned that someone has done a short film based on the story just this year. I'm glad to see that people are still enjoying Wellman's work. The film is currently showing up at some film festivals and appears to be well received. I hope the filmmakers make it available on DVD because I'd sure like to check it out. Have a look at the trailer at:

http://www.upundertheroof.com/

Friday, June 11, 2010

Quick Check In

Okay, just finished up the serialized story I mentioned in the previous post. I've been concentrating on that, which is why I haven't been blogging much the last week or so. Busy busy busy. Anyway, beginning the novel is on deck, so I may be scarce again for a while. I'll try to give a status report soon.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Once More Unto the Breach

I have decided that 2010 will not pass without my having written a novel. It's been a while since I wrote a novel length manuscript, and I've decided this is the year it gets done. I've done quite a bit of writing this year, including a serial story for a friend's website, now approaching 40 thousand words, or about a third of a book, so I'm getting used to the long form again.
I've also been studying book structure a bit more than usual the last month. And ultimately I've gotten a lot better at finishing what I start lately, so this looks like the time. So bad, good, publishable, un-publishable, whatever, I am determined to have a first draft by fall. I have a couple more weeks to finish up the serial and then it's once more unto the breach, dear friends.

Weekend Report

The Memorial Day weekend was fairly calm but filled with many things. I went to my Nephew Zack's High School graduation ceremony. Now I know what my parents mean when they say it seems like only yesterday when I was a kid. Doesn't seem like the boy I bought Samurai Jack toys for ought to be an adult, out of high school and into the real world. He looks like his dad did at that age, tall and slender with dark wavy hair and bright blue eyes. The days go by, don't they?
I did a lot of reading over the weekend. I tried Brandon Sanderson's book Warbreaker. Sanderson is the guy who was chosen to finish Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series. He has several series and standalones of his own. Warbreaker is an interesting case because you can read the book for free if you want to at Sanderson's website. He's posted the entire novel, plus all the early drafts and revisions. Writers take note. Here's a good chance to see how someone writes their books. I read the first chapter at the website, and liked it enough that I went and bought the paperback. I still prefer real books to reading online and I like to support authors by buying their books. Overall I enjoyed it, though it could have used a bit more action.
Then I started Scott Lynch's The Lies of Locke Lamora, which was recommended to me by my pal, Laura. I'm liking this one a lot. Kind of a fantasy caper novel with a richly imagined urban setting. Reminds me in many ways of Fritz Leiber's Fafhrd and Gray Mouser books, a little dark, with a lot of witty dialogue. It also reminds me quite a bit of the works of Charles Dickens. It's a beautifully written book, and rises well above the level of cookie-cutter medieval fantasy. Highly recommended. Thanks, Laura!
Also re-reading Michael Moorcock's Stormbringer, the first and last novel of Elric of Melnibone. Why first and last? Because it was the first one Mike wrote back in the sixties, but in the series chronology it takes place last. This is the one that brings the tormented albino prince's world to a spectacular end. On the way there is much stealing of souls and battles with monsters and all the things one expects from Elric.
What else? Watched the ninth episode of the new Doctor Who series, the second part of a two-parter. Still really liking Matt Smith as the Doctor. The main problem I'm having with the new series is there are some tremendous holes in the logic of some of the stories. Doctor Who isn't really to be taken seriously I know, but sometimes things just don't make sense. I'll try and elaborate more in a later post. Maybe some of it will be explained away by the end of the series.
Anyway, that was pretty much the weekend.