Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Spell of Seven

During my sorting of old and new books, I stopped to look at some paperbacks I hadn't seen in a while. (Which is, of course, one of the pleasures of sorting books.) One of these volumes was The Spell of Seven, a 1965 anthology of sword & sorcery edited by L. Sprague De Camp. This one is a classic in that it contains Robert E. Howard, Fritz Leiber, Jack Vance, Clark Ashton Smith, Michael Moorcock, and Lord Dunsany. Crom, what a line up. And it has illustrations by Virgil Finlay!
REH weighs in with Shadows in Zamboula, which many fans consider lesser Conan. I've always liked the story. It has some truly gritty moments for Conan and some nice creepy bits. I haven't checked to see if this is the De Camp edited version, but it probably is. The acknowledgement page just says "Originally published in Weird Tales for November 1935."
The Fritz Leiber Fafhrd and Gray Mouser story is one of my favorites, Bazaar of the Bizarre, which manages to be a sword swinging tale and at the same time a biting social satire. Not nearly as easy as Leiber makes it look. Dark, funny, and exciting at the same time.
Elric and Moonglum appear in Moorcock's Kings in Darkness, a tale of Elric's wandering days. I actually need to sit down and give this one a reread. Haven't read it in a couple of years. I'll do that this weekend.
I've noted before that I don't consider the works of Lord Dunsany and Jack Vance to be sword & sorcery, but both were masters of original and interesting fantasy. Vance is well represented by a tale from The Dying Earth, Mazirian the Magician and the Dunsany story is one of his most popular and most anthologized, The Hoard of Gibbelins. (And yes that's Hoard not Horde.) The first line is a classic. "The Gibbelins eat, as is well known, nothing less good than man."
I used to say the same of Clark Ashton Smith but Al Harron, of the inestimable Blog That Time Forgot, finally convinced me that at least some of Smith's work could be classified as S&S. That deserves a post of its own and I'll get around to it. However, the CAS tale in The Spell of Seven, The Dark Eidolon, is all sorcery and no swords. It's one of Smith's dark prose poems, filled with enough weird atmosphere and ideas to carry a novel. It's a tale of vengeance that brings to mind the old proverb 'when you set out for revenge, first dig two graves.'
But wait, you say. That's only six stories. Yeah, well, the seventh is L. Sprague De Camp's The Hungry Hercynian and though I am a fan of some of De Camp's work, this isn't one of his best. However we won't beat up on De Camp, because he put this anthology together and it is a very good one. There's also not much point in ragging him for anthologizing one of his own stories as that was standard procedure back in the day, when most people hired to put together anthologies were themselves writers of note.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Not Quite Kirby Conan

Over at the CROM blog we were lamenting the fact that Jack Kirby didn't get to draw Conan many times. I thought I'd pull a Rich Buckler and swipe a Kirby figure and turn it into Conan. I've never been much of an inker so I just used and did this quick homage to Jack and Conan.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Stalking Ditko

Just a heads up for the sword & sorcery comics fans among you. Volume one of DC Comics' Steve Ditko Omnibus will be out this week or next and while most of it will be taken up by Ditko's SF series Shade the Changing Man, it will also include the four issues of the short-lived sword & sorcery title Stalker, which featured energetic penciling from Ditko with inks by the legendary Wally Wood. Take a quick look at the page that accompanies this post and you can see how cool the artwork is.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Ebay Score 2!

The second bit of luck was this set of Dell Fafhrd and Gray Mouser books. These have the same covers as the ones I originally bought when I was just a kid and you can probably tell from how shiny the books look in this photo that they were pristine, unread copies. Very pleased.

Ebay Score!

Had some good luck on Ebay this week. Did a couple of Buy It Now purchases, looking to replace some worn out books and get a few new ones. First set was a good deal on some Karl Edward Wagner paperbacks that were included with a group of other books. I didn't own the first edition white cover version of Death Angel's Shadow pictured in the upper right corner and as it turned out, two of the other Kane books were better copies than my current ones. Also I needed a replacement copy of the Jirel of Joiry paperback, having given my copy to a friend, and the copy of Warlocks and Warriors was an upgrade too. That's why I was sorting books. Making space for new ones and setting dupes aside for friends who need them.

Weekend Report

I spent most of the weekend looking after Bruce the cat. I am pleased to report that save for some soreness, he seems to be back to normal and today he has done most of the stuff he usually does. But we had long days Friday and Saturday. And yes, once again he has somehow managed to keep me from seeing Conan, but I have a long weekend next week for the Labor day holiday, so fingers crossed.
Since I've been stuck at the apartment most of the weekend, what have I done? I re-watched last year's Sherlock Holmes movie and found I liked it a bit better the second time around.
I watched the first episode of the second part of this year's Doctor Who series. Much fun, though quite a bit of 'back-filling' in the writing. Steven Moffat is having to do some fancy footwork to make all his previous River Song appearances work out. The seams show a bit but nothing that kills the fun. I don't usually expect Doctor Who to make total sense anyway. It's not that kind of show.
Read some selections from Otto Penzler's Big Book of Adventure Stories, including my first re-read of Rudyard Kipling's The Man Who Would be King in a couple of decades. I highly recommend this book. Stories by Jack London, Lester Dent, Robert E. Howard, Fritz Leiber, and even a complete Tarzan novel by Edgar Rice Burroughs.
I sorted some books. More on that in a bit.
I forgot Jack Kirby's birthday was today but fortunately Cliff reminded me, so Happy Birthday Jack. You are still the King and still my hero.
So anyway, that was the weekend, or most of it. Hopefully Bruce will be fully recovered in the next couple of days and I can have a more productive weekend for Labor Day.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Mike Hawthorne's Conan

Once again my cheap digital camera isn't up to the task of showing how truly awesome a piece of artwork is, but here's a quick shot of the commission I received from Mike Hawthorne, artist on the Dark Horse Conan Road of Kings comic, today. I asked for a shot of Conan hefting an ax, about to show somebody how the world works. I'd say I got it. Thanks, Mike!

Cat Update

Just a quick update for those of you who have expressed concern for my cat, Bruce. He's home but still a little under the weather. Fortunately I can keep an eye on him all weekend. Unfortunately I have to give him medication which will probably end with my being scratched a lot. Such is life.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

A Small Emergency

Every morning as I'm leaving for work, I give the cats, Bruce and Amelia, a kitty treat which keeps them from following me to the door. They look forward to it and on weekends often try to get me out of bed at 5:00 am so they can have their treat. Yesterday, when treat time came, only Amelia showed up. No Bruce. I thought perhaps he was playing in the living room, but a quick check showed that wasn't the case. I checked the bathroom and found him standing motionless in the litterbox. I waited a bit and he didn't move. Finally he turned and hopped out and ran into the kitchen to get his treat.
I could have chalked it up to weird cat behavior, but something about his posture troubled me, so I went to work, but all the way there I was thinking about Bruce's behavior and I decided it looked as if he was trying to urinate and couldn't. If that was the case I knew that would be bad, so when I got to work I ran a couple of google searches before clocking in. I kept coming up with the same thing, a condition called FLUTD, or feline lower urinary tract disease. Knowing how unreliable the internet can be, I checked several sites, but all seemed to agree. And all mentioned that the condition could be life threatening because the kidneys would, of course, eventually shut down if the cat couldn't process urine.
So I told my manager I was concerned about my cat and I took a half day of vacation and went home at 10:00. (I go in at 6:00). Bruce was dashing around the apartment like his usual crazy self, so I wondered if perhaps I was overreacting. Still I cleaned the litter box so I would be able to tell if he'd had any success using it. Several times over the next hour he attempted to use the litter box and couldn't. That was enough for me.
I called the vet and gave them his symptoms and they said, "How fast can you get him here?" I replied that I could leave as soon as I put down the phone. And I did.
They took Bruce in as soon as I got there and the doctor examined him and told me that his bladder was indeed very full and that they would have to use a catheter to drain it. Then she asked If I'd heard of FLUTD and I said, "Yes, crystalline formations in the urethra."
She told me that was exactly right and that they needed to get the urethra unblocked as quickly as possible. I told them to do whatever they needed to do. They took Bruce back to one of the operating rooms immediately, and while I filled out some paperwork, the doctor quizzed me on how I had noticed Bruce's symptoms. I told her basically what you've just read and she complimented me on being an observant and quick thinking pet owner. Vets tend to like people who are concerned about their pets. She also said that I'd caught it early and there wouldn't likely be any permanent damage, so Bruce's prognosis was very good. I didn't mention that at least part of my observation and deduction could probably be attributed to reading too much Sherlock Holmes.
Anyway, the 'unplugging' operation went fine, and Bruce was resting comfortably as of last night. He'll probably have to stay at the vet a couple of days while they make sure everything is working properly, so fingers crossed. I'll call the vet once they're open this morning and check on him. FLUTD is fairly common among male cats who have been neutered so hopefully Bruce will be fine, though I'll probably have to change his diet. I'll keep you posted.

Monday, August 22, 2011


This picture is a little blurry but the batteries died on my digital camera before I could take a better one. Anyway, these are two of my favorite shelves in my bookcases. There's a lot more Lovecraft and other horror on the shelf directly below these two.


Tomorrow The Measure of the Magic, the second volume in Terry Brooks' Legends of Shannara duology, hits the shelves. I pre-ordered it from Amazon, so theoretically mine will arrive in tomorrow's mail. This will presumably bring to a close the pre-history of Brooks' long running fantasy world, the setting for The Sword of Shannara and its sequels. Along with the three volume Genesis of Shannara, the Legends of Shannara fills the gap between the destruction of our world and the birth of the world of the Shannara novels. I really enjoyed the Genesis books, with their mix of post apocalyptic fiction and high fantasy, and I was good with last year's Bearers of the Black staff, though as the links to our world grew more tenuous, so did my interest. I find Brooks' pure fantasy novels to be uneven. Some I like. Some I don't.
Which brings us to Brooks' short story, Indomitable, which I reread last night to get my brain into proper epic fantasy mode before reading the new novel. Indomitable is something of an anomaly for Brooks. It's the only short story he's published and according to recent interviews it will probably remain so. He's smart enough to realize that there are major differences between the long and short forms and he says he's definitely a long form guy. Indomitable, in fact, reads very much like a synopsis for a longer work. It is a Shannara novel in miniature.
I've noted before that Brooks tends to use a formula to write his novels. Basically it's what Michael Moorcock calls 'six days to save the world.' The formula is simple. An object to be obtained. Limited time to obtain it. Disastrous outcome if you fail. Yeah, I know. Pretty much every post-Tolkien fantasy you've read, eh? But I have come to understand that this is what a large portion of the reading world wants from their fantasy novels. They want a quest and companions and wise men and monsters. There's a reason that The Lord of the Rings remains the most imitated work of fantasy in the history of the genre. You'd have to get Joseph Campbell to stop by and explain why, but people love that basic story. The hero and the quest.
Anyway, Indomitable is a sequel to Brooks' 1985 novel, The Wishsong of Shannara. It picks up two years after Wishsong, when young Jair Ohmsford learns that something yet remains of the sentient, evil grimoire the Ildatch. Jair thought that his sister Brin had destroyed the deadly book, but it turns out that one page remains and even that could be enough to threaten the world. Not to mention that the page has already fallen into the hands of the Mwellrets, evil lizardish creatures, who seek the ancient powers of the Ildatch. (It also appears that the book is feeding on the life-forces of the Mwellrets and may be regenerating itself, which is kind of creepy.)
With his companions Kimber Boh (the spunky girl) and Cogline ( the slightly crazy wizard) Jair sets off for the prison/fortress of Maelmord to try and destroy the page. Brooks does a nice job of using leftover plot threads from Wishsong. Jair had been held prisoner in Maelmord in the novel and if there's one place in the world that he doesn't want to return to, it's the fortress. Kimber, who was just a young girl in Wishsong, has grown into a lovely young woman and Jair finds he's very attracted to her.
The most interesting thing is probably the way that Jair's inherent magic has grown and changed. In the original novel, Jair's sister Brin could use the titular Wishsong to alter reality. Jair on the other hand, could only appear to make such changes. His power was one of illusion. But Brooks always says that using magic has a cost, and in Jair's case the magic has grown more powerful over time. He can actually cause physical changes in reality now but he could end up losing himself in the magic, which serves as a nice underlying threat during the more obvious conflict with the Mwellrets.
If this sounds like a lot to cram into a short story, it is. As I said, this almost reads like a synopsis and I'm sure Brooks could have gotten a novel out of it if he'd wanted. In fact he does revisit these characters and this setting again in his only foray into the graphic novel so far, The Dark Wraith of Shannara, plotted by Brooks and written by Robert Place Napton with manga-ish artwork by Edwin David. I enjoyed Dark Wraith a lot and recommend it to those who enjoy epic fantasy. I recommend Indomitable as well, but be aware that it feels a bit truncated.
Indomitable originally appeared in Robert Silverberg's anthology, Legends II, along with novellas by George R.R. Martin, Neil Gaiman, Raymond Feist, and others. It has recently been printed as a limited edition illustrated book from Subterranean Press.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Conan: Road of Kings Issue 7

Best. Issue. Ever. Seriously, Conan:The Road of Kings issue #7 is my favorite yet. Roy Thomas, who started writing Conan's comic book adventures back in 1970, still is the man for the job. The dialog in this issue just sparkles. Though Thomas never wrote a Conan prose novel, I still consider him to be one of the best Conan pastiche writers, up there with Wagner and Hocking.
In this issue Conan somewhat reluctantly joins the private guard of a slimy prince, only to find that he has fallen in with a group of traitors to the crown of Aquilonia. But there's a traitor among the traitors and the King's own elite guardsmen show up to deal out some harsh justice. Conan would just as soon walk away but he knows that he's going to be branded a member of the traitors, so he does what any Cimmerian would do in such a situation. He draws his sword and cuts his way out. There's a catch however, when the daughter of one of the rebels is caught in the crossfire and Conan suddenly finds himself the protector of a small girl. Lone Conan and Cub? Most of the rebel leaders, including the girls' mother, escape. Won't find out where all of this is leading until next issue.
In addition to Roy Thomas's tight script, we get what has to be Mike Hawthorne's best art on the series yet. ( I know I say that every time but he keeps topping himself.) There are action sequences aplenty in this issue starting on page one, and Hawthorne delivers some terrific visual story telling as he shows Conan hacking his way through his foes. But Hawthorne also does well on the few quiet scenes, showing a range of expressions on the faces of the various characters that's darned impressive. Trust me, it isn't easy to show emotion with pencil and ink lines on the printed page. I hate to keep comparing this series to the old Marvel Conan, but with Thomas's mile a minute writing and Hawthorne's energetic art style (ably inked by John Lucas), this reminds me of the glory days of Conan comics. I keep expecting a Bullpen Bulletins page. And that is not a bad thing.
I see that the hardback collection of the first six issues of Road of King's will be out in February of next year. You can bet I'll be picking that one up.

Why I'm Not Seeing Conan the Barbarian Tomorrow

No, it isn't because of the vitriolic fanboy reviews on the net or even because of better considered reviews by folks whose opinions I trust, because I haven't read ANY reviews. I'm a thinking human being who likes to make his own decisions after actually seeing a film, which disqualifies me for half the discussions of the film on various message boards right now, I know. Call me Foolish. Call me irresponsible.
No, the far more prosaic reason I won't be seeing Conan the Barbarian when it premieres here on Friday is because even if I went, I couldn't see it. Yesterday I broke my glasses.
I'll spare you the gory details, so let's just say I stepped on them and that there may or may not have been a cat named Bruce involved. The important part being, my glasses are, to use a military term FUBAR. And no, I don't have a back-up pair. My eyesight hasn't changed much over the years, so last time I visited the optometrist, I didn't' have to get new glasses, and I've no idea where the pair before that has gone. Anyway, I did go to the eye doctor and two, count em, two new pair of glasses are on the way, but they will not arrive before the weekend.
Fortunately I am nearsighted, which means I can still do my job, read, and type on the computer, as I am doing now. Unfortunately, I am nearsighted, which means that without my glasses, Conan would look like an animated film produced by Monet. Conan the Impressionistic, anyone?
I had planned to hit the first showing tomorrow so I could get my review up here for the weekend, but alas, that isn't going to work out. Sometimes fate takes a hand.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011


So I'm writing a sword & sorcery story and it has a balladeer as a main plot point, and it suddenly occurred to me that the balladeer needed a ballad to sing so I had to stop and write a ballad. Writing is strange.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Conan and Tarzan

Of course this is how I'd prefer to see Conan and Tarzan, teamed up, as I told artist Thomas Yeates when I commissioned this pen and ink illustration a few years back. Even with the poor digital pic, I think you can see this is a snazzy drawing. One of my favorites in my collection.

Conan Versus Tarzan

Over at the Silver Key, my pal Brian Murphy was reviewing Charles R. Saunders novel Imaro, and the question came up, Could Imaro beat Conan or Tarzan in a fight. My somewhat tongue in cheek response was that my money was on Tarzan. That's actually true in the Tarzan versus Conan question too. I'm betting on the ape-man.
However, I should point out that this has little to do with fanboy type speculation on the physical abilities of the combatants. I can tell you as a former teacher and student of karate and ju-jitsu that if three such titans as Imaro, Conan, and Tarzan fought hand to hand, anybody might beat anybody else on a given day.
No, the simple answer is, I just like Tarzan best of the three. I'm reminded of something that happened a few years back when I mentioned to my dad that some of us fanboy types were debating who would win in a hand to hand fight between Conan and Tarzan. My dad looked at me as if I were crazy and said, without hesitation, "Well Tarzan of course."
I had to give that some thought. See, my dad doesn't know from Conan. Didn't read the books or comics. I think he saw the 1980 movie. But he grew up reading the Tarzan novels and watching the movies. To him Tarzan will always be the top physical specimen of mankind. Conan is some Johnny-come-lately who wouldn't stand a chance against Edgar Rice Burroughs' jungle lord.
Now me, being a guy who grew up with both characters, and being someone who has taken part in many 'Thor versus Superman' type discussions would have to give the question more consideration. Ultimately though, I would end up giving the nod to Tarzan because I was aware of Tarzan long before I'd heard of Conan. I'll supply a link to my essay 'Tarzan and Me' at the end of this post.
Thing is, I'm afraid most of today's young fans would give Conan the win for much the same reasons I'd give it to Tarzan. Tarzan has faded into the background since the 1970s, and is probably best known as the hero of a Disney movie to most young people. Conan, because of recent comics, games, and yes, reruns of the Ahhnold movie, is everywhere. If you asked them who would win in a fight between Conan and Tarzan, they would probably look at you as if you were crazy and say, "Well Conan of course."

Oh, I just noticed that with this post, number 150 for 2011, I passed the total number of posts for 2010. And hey, there are still four months left in the year after August.

Friday, August 12, 2011

There were books?

Real conversation from this morning.

Me to friend. "The new Conan movie hits a week from today. I'll probably see it that weekend."
Guy I wasn't talking to. "They remade Conan?'
Me. "Not a remake. A new movie using the character."
Guy I wasn't talking to. "I wouldn't figure you for a Conan fan. He's like a big hulking Neanderthal."
Me. "That was the old movie. Conan isn't like that in the books."
Guy I wasn't talking to. "There were books?"
The conversation went downhill from there.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Comix Creator Cookout

Conan: Road of Kings artist Mike Hawthorne will be wielding tongs and a spatula instead of a sword this weekend at the Comix Creator Cookout to benefit the Central PA Food Bank. If you live in the Central PA area, get out and support a good cause. Details at Mike's blog:

Monday, August 08, 2011

Wellman and the Captain Redux

My friend Harry Mendryk over at the Simon & Kirby blog was able to give me a bit more information regarding the authorship of the first issue of Captain Marvel Adventures. While he didn't know if Manly Wade Wellman had worked on that issue, he did tell me that the stories were not written by Joe Simon. In court transcripts from the big 'Superman Vs Captain Marvel' lawsuit, Simon testified that he and Jack Kirby had asked if they could make changes to the scripts provided by Fawcett for Captain Marvel and the answer had been a firm no, because the Fawcett staff said they were following a specific pattern and that pattern was based on Superman. So no Joe Simon stories, despite what the credits in the Shazam Archives say. I think it probable that Bill Parker scripted at least one of the stories in CMA #1, as it refers back to an earlier Captain Marvel story written by Parker. My money is still on Wellman for the vampire tale though.

You can check out the excellent S&K Blog here:

Weekend Report

I know, I know. The blog has been pretty quiet the last week. Things are slow, what can I tell you. Haven't read anything I've felt like blogging about. Mostly reading short stories. Did read James Enge's The Red Worm's Way which was a lot of fun and available on line. Currently reading a book I'm enjoying quite a bit, so more on that later.
So what did I do during the weekend? I read some comic books. The first two issues of Elric:The Balance Lost are out and I'm liking that a lot. I'll try and get a longer review up soon. Read the first issue of Greg Rucka's Punisher from Marvel. I found it so so. Rucka is an excellent crime writer so he's made for the Punisher, but I found the first issue somewhat fragmented in its storytelling.
I watched David Tennant's last two Doctor Who episodes for the first time since they were originally broadcast. The End of Time parts one and two still seem a little underdone to me. The Master just isn't himself and the Doctor, knowing of his impending demise, spends more time introspecting than one might like. The last half hour of part two almost manages to make up for the shortcomings though. And I'd forgotten what a showcase these two episodes were for Bernard Cribbens as Wilfred Mott, an old soldier who finally gets his chance to save the world, but by doing so helps to doom the 10th Doctor.
And I watched a wonderful documentary called The Captains, recommended by my friend Jeri. Written and directed by William Shatner, it features Shatner traveling around the world interviewing almost everyone else who ever played a star ship captain. His scenes with Patrick Stewart are classics. Also the scenes where Shatner wanders around a Star Trek convention, surprising fans by just popping up unexpectedly.
And I played Lord of the Rings Online, but not a lot. Like most longtime Lotro players, I'm sort of spinning my wheels waiting for the Isengard expansion due out next month. Some of my kin mates have begun to lose interest in the game, and I can see why. I've been at the level cap for going on two years now. The last expansion was underwhelming, so I'm hoping Isengard will be better.
That's about all that comes to mind now. I'll try and have something more interesting to talk about next time. Right now, I have to go to work.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

The Complete John Thunstone

Learned yesterday that Haffner Press will be bringing out a volume collecting all of Manly Wade Wellman's John Thunstone stories, including the two Thunstone novels, What Dreams May Come and School of Darkness. Though I already own all of this stuff in various other volumes, you can bet I'll be picking up a copy. Partly to support the project so there will be more Wellman reprints for everyone to enjoy, and partly because I just like to have everything in one handy place. (And probably partly because I have the collector mentality which says I must have every edition of a favorite writer's work, but we won't speculate on that.)
If you're not familiar with Thunstone, he was one of Wellman's occult detectives, and he did battle with vampires, werewolves, demons, ghosts, and Wellman's pre-human race, the Shonokins. Terrific stuff. Though there have been a couple of other collections of the Thunstone stories, this will be the first complete one.
Anyway, I was very impressed with Haffner's Henry Kuttner collection Terror in the House, so I'm looking forward to the Thunstone collection. Here's the table of contents and a link to Haffner Press. Check em out.

The Third Cry to Legba  Weird Tales Nov ’43
The Golden Goblins  Weird Tales Jan ’44
Hoofs Weird Tales Mar ’44
The Letters of Cold Fire  Weird Tales May ’44
John Thunstone’s Inheritance  Weird Tales Jul ’44
Sorcery from Thule  Weird Tales Sep ’44
The Dead Man’s Hand  Weird Tales Nov ’44
Thorne on the Threshold  Weird Tales Jan ’45
The Shonokins  Weird Tales Mar ’45
Blood from a Stone  Weird Tales May ’45
The Dai Sword  Weird Tales Jul ’45
Twice Cursed  Weird Tales Mar ’46
Shonokin Town  Weird Tales Jul ’46
The Leonardo Rondache  Weird Tales Mar ’48
The Last Grave of Lill Warran  Weird Tales May ’51
Rouse Him Not  Kadath Jul ’82
What Dreams May Come, Doubleday 1983
The School of Darkness, Doubleday 1985