Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Tal Tulai Khan


The first Harold Lamb story I ever read was, fittingly enough, sent to me by my friend Howard Andrew Jones. Howard has since edited the greater part of Lamb's adventure fiction into eight amazing volumes from Bison Books. I've raved about Lamb here at the blog many times, reviewing his short stories, his novels, and his historical biographies. I'm going to do it again now because last night I read one of my favorite Lamb tales so far, Tal Tulai Khan, featuring Lamb's best known protagonist, the wily Cossack Khlit.
In this one, Khlit's pride gets him into trouble, (not for the first or last time) when some of his fellow Cossacks imply that he is too old to take place in an expected upcoming battle. Khlit, who may have gray hair and a white mustache, but who is still a deadly swordsman, takes offense and quits the Cossack band. Riding into the lands of the Mongol Tatars, Khlit entertains the idea of perhaps joining the Great Khan Tal Tulai Khan, and boldly rides to the pavilions where the Khan and his retinue are on a great hunt. But, little does Khlit know that his sworn enemy, Mirai Khan is already at Tal Tulai Khan's camp.
At first, Tulai Khan is impressed with Khlit's swaggering confidence, and bids him stay with the hunt, but soon Mirai Khan has poisoned the Great Khan against Khlit and all things Cossack and Khlit must use all his wits and his skill with the curved saber to escape death when literally thousands of foes are between the Cossack and escape. This one has one of the best sword duels in it I've read so far, and Khlit's answer to his plight is something only Lamb would have thought of. Lamb has the same knack that Agatha Christie had of hiding a solution, only to spring it at the end, and like Christie, with Lamb you think, "Of course!" rather than "unfair!" His plotting is that good.
Anyway, I'm on a Harold Lamb kick at the moment. I've been fairly careful to ration his stuff out, because obviously the supply is finite, but lately I feel the need for the kind of adventures Lamb excelled at, so I'm going to read some more Cossack stories before putting the book on the shelf. (This story is in Wolf of the Steppes, vol I of the Complete Cossack Adventures) I have yet to crack the final two of the four Bison volumes of Cossack adventures, so I've still got a lot left. I also have plenty of Lamb's other books, fiction and non fiction, too. As I've noted before, if you like Robert E. Howard, give Harold Lamb a shot. Lamb was one of REH's favorite writers, and I can see why.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Savage Sword: The Dixon Years


In one of my Savage Memories posts I mentioned that after Roy Thomas, Chuck Dixon was my favorite writer on The Savage Sword of Conan. I've recently started re-reading Dixon's run on Conan and now I remember why I liked his stuff.
I've referred to the time right after Roy Thomas left Savage Sword of Conan as the Long Wasteland of Michael Fleisher. Fleisher wrote most of the issues between #61 and #112, and I didn't really care for any of them. This shouldn't be taken as a dig at Fleisher. I've read plenty of the man's other comics work that I liked a lot. He just didn't seem to 'get' Conan. His stories had a lot more standard fantasy tropes to them than any of Robert E. Howard's work and his Conan just wasn't as savage as Howard's Cimmerian.
Which brings us to the issues written by Chuck Dixon. After a brief period following Fleisher's departure from SSoC, several different writers worked on the magazine before Dixon settled down as regular writer around issue #136. He would hang around to write the majority of the issues up to #180. Dixon had already been on hand for a while, often scripting the Kull backup features and such. When he got to Conan he followed REH's original concept closer than anyone had since Thomas. Not that his stuff was as Howard-Like as Roy's, but what Dixon did was treat the comic like he was writing historical fiction with monsters and sorcery rather than writing fantasy. Dixon seemed to enjoy writing stories with a military background and his Conan is often a soldier or mercenary. He also seemed to like the setting from REH's story Beyond the Black River, as many of the tales are set in the Pictish wilderness.
However, Dixon's take seems to be modeled more on Roman occupied Briton than the American frontier. In fact Dixon's Aquilonian soldiers are fairly obviously patterned on the Roman Legions. (Aquiromians, as my pal Al Harron would call them.) The story I read tonight (issue #137) is even called The Lost Legion! In this story, Conan and his fellow mercenaries are sent into the wilderness to try and learn what became of the missing Legion. This turns into a running battle with the Picts as the mercs try to fight their way back to the Aquilonian fort, rather like the recent movie The Centurion.
Dixon's writes Conan as a bad-ass. Not a choir boy or noble savage. This is not somebody you want to mess with. my favorite bit of dialogue is in a scene where Conan is collecting scalps from the Picts he's just killed. A comrade asks him if he knows what will happen if the Picts catch him with the scalps and Conan says, "I'll have more scalps."
Now truthfully I don't know that Howard's Conan would have taken the scalps of fallen foes, but it is a good scene to establish that Dixon's Conan isn't messing around.
The art on this issue is by Gary Kwapisz and Ernie Chan. Kwapisz was one of those artists whose style I didn't like much at first, but who I came to appreciate more as I went. The one thing I did like about it was that he very early on quit trying to draw like anyone else. I can respect that. His stuff was a bit more naturalistic than the average bombastic Marvel artist, but it was all his. He only did breakdowns for this story and his style is all but obliterated by Chan's heavy inks, but I've seen enough of Kwapisz's work to know what his pure art looks like. In fact I tracked him down a few years ago and got a Conan commission from him. Kwapisz would end up drawing a big chunk of Dixon's issues. They made a good team.
Anyway, I'll be looking at other Dixon issues here as I read my way back through them.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Final Thunstone Art


The latest email from Haffner Press features the finished cover art by Raymond Swanland for the upcoming The Complete John Thunstone. I posted the cover rough a few weeks back. Looks really nice, says I.
It's funny how much I'm looking forward to this book, since I already own all the material inside. I think it's just because I'm happy to see Manly Wade Wellman's name on a new book cover and because this means that new readers will have a chance to discover Wellman's fiction. At a mere forty bucks for all the Thunstone short stories and both novels, this is a seriously good deal. Plus, I've bought enough books from Haffner Press to know how well made their books are. In fact, I was thinking this morning that Haffner would be a great publisher to reprint Karl Edward Wagner's Kane stories, which are sadly in need of being reprinted. An affordable, quality set of Kane would be a boon to fantasy readers everywhere.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Blind Shadows

Okay, the novel by James A. Moore and me is titled Blind Shadows and will be out later this year from Arcane Wisdom Press, which is a new imprint of Bloodletting Press (Bloodletting has published books by folks like Joe Lansdale, Brian Keene, and Tom Piccirilli.) Arcane Wisdom Press has recently released new books from Rick Daken and Michael Kelly & Carol Weekes, as well as new editions of books by H.P. Lovecraft and Arthur Machen with annotations by noted Lovecraft Scholar S.T. Joshi.
Blind Shadows isn't a Lovecraft pastiche but there are some Lovecraftian elements. I keep referring to it as 'Killer Rednecks From the Outer Dark', but Jim nixed that as a title. It's either a crime novel with horror elements or a horror novel with crime fiction elements. Guns, monsters, murder and mayhem. Most of the action takes place in a small Georgia town called Wellman. If you checked out our Halloween story PDF, you've already visited the town back in the 1970s.
Anyway, more info as I get it.

One With a Bit More Heart


I mentioned a few posts ago that I'd acquired two books that had once belonged to writer Karl Edward Wagner. I've picked up one more. This one has a bit more meaning to me, however, in that unlike the other two books, which were contributor copies of books Wagner had stories in, this book was a favorite of his from his personal library.
In his essay, The Once and Future Kane, Wagner mentions that Poul Anderson's The Broken Sword was one of his favorite two or three novels of all time. He includes it in his list of influences as a writer of heroic fantasy, along with C.L. Moore and others. I purchased his copy of The Broken Sword to add to my own library. It's a first edition, signed by Anderson and with KEW's bookplate in the front. I'll be proud to put this one on my bookshelf.
Michael Moorcock maintains that the original Broken Sword is superior to the edition that Poul Anderson edited for the Ballantine Adult Fantasy series. I'll be interested in seeing how the two differ.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Kindling

Made my first actual Kindle purchase this morning. And the winner is...Taken, the new Elvis Cole/Joe Pike novel from Robert Crais. The funny thing is, I'm not even home with my Kindle. Presumably the book will be waiting within its digital home when I arrive home this afternoon. Ah, technology...

Monday, January 23, 2012

Backtracking

While rearranging some books last night it occurred to me how much weird and horror fiction I've accumulated in the past five years. I mean, I've read Lovecraft since I was a teenager, and obviously Robert E. Howard, and I was familiar with other S&S writers like C.L. Moore and Henry Kuttner, but most of my interest in other Weird Tales writers and writers of similar stuff has come about in the last decade, and much of that can be attributed to the influence of the late Karl Edward Wagner.
I had been aware of course, that Robert E. Howard had created what we know as sword & sorcery by introducing supernatural elements into Harold Lamb style historical adventure stories. But I don't think that idea really gelled for me until I read a comment from Wagner that his Kane stories were really horror stories with just enough action in them to qualify as heroic fantasy. (Wagner didn't care for the term sword & sorcery.)
This comment sent me in search of Wagner's horror fiction, which led to the discovery of other horror/weird writers such as Ramsey Campbell, Joseph Payne Brennan, and most importantly, Manly Wade Wellman.
A lot of this was serendipity. About the same time I discovered Wagner (though Michael Moorcock, oddly enough.) I was also collecting the Swords Against Darkness paperbacks. These contained sword & sorcery tales by Ramsey Campbell (Ryre) and Manly Wade Wellman (Kardios). So a lot of things seemed to be converging at once. I was seeing the fantasy work of various writers who were better known for their horror writing at the same time that I was discovering their horror and weird fiction.
Even Clark Ashton Smith, with whom I was familiar but not that well read in, suddenly leaped into focus with the new Nightshade collections of his stories, giving me the chance to immerse myself in his amazing fiction. And one thing led to another and now I have this ever growing collection of horror/weird fiction. So if Karl Edward Wagner seems to pop up in a lot of my posts, there's a reason. He's at the hub of my interest in weird tales.
Also, I think I've zeroed in on Wagner and Manly Wade Wellman because of their regional fiction. I was born and raised in the northern part of Georgia, and both men's tales of Southern horrors and fantasy resonate with me. A lot of that is showing up in my more recent writing.
Anyway, I suppose it is the nature of readers to seek out the influences of favorite writers, backtracking to the wellsprings of well loved stories. And in this, Karl Edward Wagner was and is an excellent guide. In his introductions to the Year's Best Horror Stories, his Forwards and notes in the Echoes of Valor series, his introductions and annotations to the Conan stories, and in countless essays, articles, and comments in various books and magazines, Wagner continues to offer sage advice on a genre he loved.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

An Unexpected Discovery


So I'm sitting here tonight, reading through Vol II of my recently acquired Whispers books and I was pleased to note that this volume had been signed (to someone named Mike) by Karl Edward Wagner. And I as I read along I found that it had also been signed by Ramsey Campbell. And Manly Wade Wellman. And Fritz Leiber! Dunno if the book dealer didn't notice this or what, but I'm calling this a good day.

Happy Birthday Robert E. Howard!


Today is Robert E. Howard's birthday. If you've spent much time at this blog then you know that Howard has been a big part of my life since I was a kid. His creation Conan the Cimmerian is one of my very favorite fictional characters. Howard has given me untold hours of reading pleasure.
He's also one of my biggest influences as a writer. People say I write good fight scenes and I think I can credit REH with a lot of that. I'm always trying for that headlong visceral feel that Howard managed to get into his fights. I've learned other writing lessons from him as well.
I don't think Howard could have imagined, back in the 1930s when he was spinning his tales, that so many people would have been influenced by his work, and I'm sure he never would have believed what a huge cultural icon Conan would become. So here's to Robert E. Howard. Happy birthday sir, and thanks for all the great characters and stories

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Desert of Souls Redux


I reviewed The Desert of Souls, the debut novel of author Howard Andrew Jones, last February when the hardback came out. I'm going to recommend it again because it's just out in trade paperback.
Seriously, if you're one of those people (like me) who's always complaining about the sameness of current fantasy novels, you need to give this one a try. If you are tired of the latest retelling of medieval history dressed up with magic and dragons, or if you wish the Tolkien wannabes would just take a break, or if you cringe when you see yet another Anita Blake clone, then run down to your local bookstore and snatch up Desert of Souls.
The book's setting in 8th century Baghdad already sets it apart from the standard fantasy novel. You'll hear echoes of the Arabian Nights. Of Robert E. Howard and Harold Lamb. Maybe even a touch of Conan Doyle. But as I mentioned in my original review, these are evocations not imitations. Jones is too original a writer to just retread old ground.
Anyway, I'm going to supply a link to my full review from last year, just in case anyone wants more info. If you're up for swashbuckling action in an exotic setting with monsters, sorcery and even some romance, give Desert of Souls a try.

http://singular--points.blogspot.com/2011/02/desert-of-souls.html

Friday, January 20, 2012

Conan: Road of Kings #12


Conan: Road of Kings issue #12 came in this week, finishing off the twelve issue mini series and setting up the next installment in the series, an adaptation of Robert E. Howard's Queen of the Black Coast. If you've been reading my reviews you know that I'm a big fan of RoK. In fact. I think it the best Conan mini-series Dark Horse has published that wasn't a REH adaptation. As the original pastiches go, I thought this one the most solid.
Now some of this could be ageing fanboy bias. Roy Thomas, the writer on Road of Kings was the original Conan comic book writer going all the way back to 1970. When I discovered Conan in 1973, Roy was at the helm and so I grew up reading his take. However, I don't think nostalgia is entirely to blame. I've stated over and over in these reviews how well Roy Thomas writes Conan. He "gets" the character in a way that is sometimes amazingly close to Howard, closer than most prose pastiche writers have gotten. The dialogue in RoK is as snappy as anything Thomas has ever written and his plotting seems effortless.
Road of Kings finds Conan in jail in the corrupt city of Argos, due to go before a notorious "hanging" judge. The charge? Conan knows who killed a guard captain and the watch thinks he knows where to find him. The judge orders Conan to turn in his friend. Conan, being Conan, declines. The judge makes threats, and Conan, being Conan...well let's just say things turn bloody. There's a nice bit where one of the soldiers, who has been threatening a shackled Conan, telling him how he would kill the barbarian if he got the chance, gets a chance. You can imagine how well this works out for him.
What's sort of interesting, is this is the second time Roy Thomas has adapted this particular scene. Way back in Marvel Comics' Conan the Barbarian issue #57, Roy set up his own adaptation of Queen of the Black Coast by dramatizing the courtroom scene, which is only told as a flashback in REH's original tale. The Marvel issue was illustrated by Mike Ploog whose Will Eisner-ish style was an interesting change from regular penciler, John Buscema. I'll have to dig that out this weekend and compare the two.
The art in this issue is another fine job by Mike Hawthorne. Hawthorne brings some serious storytelling chops to Conan. His panel to panel continuity reminds me of guys like Buscema and Gil Kane who knew how to move a story along and to actually tell the story with pictures. Hawthorne isn't interested in drawing loosely connected pin-ups, as many modern comics artists seems to be. He also spends a lot of time on facial expressions, so that the reader gets a better idea of the character's thoughts and emotional state. He doesn't just draw everyone scowling all the time. You can see Hawthorne's Conan thinking. His action scenes are first rate too. When Conan finally breaks free, get out of the way.
Anyway, issue #12 is a fine finish for the series. Well written and well drawn, with action, humor, and suspense. This week also saw the arrival of the Hardback collection of the first six issues of Road of Kings. I snatched that one up. I expect to re-read this series quite a bit in the future. So if you missed the original run, snag the hardback or the trade when it's out. Recommended

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

This Just In

Woke up to some good news this morning. The novel I wrote with James A. Moore has been picked up and will be published in hardback this year. More details when I have them. Look mom, I'm a novelist.

Monday, January 16, 2012

The House of Silk


I'd read a lot of favorable reviews about Anthony Horowitz's authorized Sherlock Holmes novel, The House of Silk, so I was ready to give it a try. I'm happy to say that the book lives up to the hype. It is not only a very good Sherlock Holmes pastiche, but also a good mystery/suspense novel on its own merits.
I've read well over 200 Sherlock Holmes pastiches, some good, many bad, but few excellent. I'd put The House of Silk near the top of the list. Why? To begin with, it feels like a Sherlock Holmes story. Horowitz isn't Doyle, but he has a good feel for Holmes and Watson. Their personalities are intact and the dialog reads true. During the first 80 or so pages, I got that familiar feeling of setting off on an adventure with Holmes, knowing that he would bring order out of chaos and set things right. And I think Horowitz was banking on that. That Holmes fans would slip into that groove with him.
Then, about page 90, things suddenly take a darker turn and Horowitz sends the great detective and his friend and assistant Watson into very "deep waters" indeed, and as the book progresses we follow Holmes into a Victorian nightmare. What impressed me about this approach was that, even though Horowitz adds some layers of realism to the crimes and the criminals that Holmes must confront, he doesn't loose sight of his protagonists. They remain the characters we know.
I'm purposefully not giving many plot details because this is a twisty, twisty tale and I don't want to give anything away. I will say, that while I figured out most of the mysteries and caught most of the clues, one thing did escape me. I always think someone has done a great job with a mystery if they 'played fair' and still managed to slip something past me. I've read thousands of mysteries and I know what to watch out for. Nothing comes out of left field in the end. All the facts were available. You just have to interpret them correctly.
Anyway, I certainly enjoyed this novel, and if the Conan Doyle estate wants Mr. Horowitz to write any more adventures of Sherlock Holmes, I'll certainly pick them up. Recommended.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Digital Holmes


Well the Kindle arrived yesterday. Have to say, the thing comes pretty much ready to go out of the box. However it doesn't come with any books, and since I've got plenty to read this weekend, I didn't have anything I wanted to buy, but of course I wanted to try out my new toy. So I went to the free section and downloaded The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, one of my favorite books of all time. A few seconds later I was re-reading The Red-Headed League on my shiny new Kindle. One wonders what Sir Arthur Conan Doyle would have thought of his books being transmitted through the ether. Anyway, League is still a classic, no matter the format.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Steve Ditko Omnibus Vol II


In my list of top comic book artists of all time, Steve Ditko would rate very high. I've always enjoyed his work and back when I was a working artist, I spent a lot of time looking at how Ditko constructed human figures. As writer Mike W. Barr points out in his introduction to DC Comics' Steve Ditko Omnibus Vol II, Ditko's knowledge of anatomy is textbook. You don't always see it, especially in his later work, but during his peak period of the 1960s you can really tell he knew his stuff. Don't let the quirky poses fool you. All the muscles connect where they should and that's especially impressive given the contortionist poses Ditko created for Spiderman, The Creeper, The Blue Beetle and the like.
There are some good examples in the first half of the Omnibus, with reprints one of Ditko's short lived 1970s DC projects, The Hawk and the Dove. Take a look at the physiques of the two sibling superheroes and you'll see what I'm talking about. This is some prime Ditko right here folks.
Unfortunately there's also a lot of not so prime Ditko in the second half of the book. There's a lot of stuff where Ditko did only pencils (and often, I suspect, very rough pencils) that are inked by other hands. Some of the stuff works and some...well, it doesn't. Of the stuff that does work, I was glad to get all of Ditko's Starman backup features together in one place. Looking forward to reading through those.
Perhaps some of the strangest art to me is Ditko's Legion of Super Heroes stuff. These characters are rather iconic to me, and somehow Ditko's unique approach just jars in these stories.
Anyway, much has been said about Ditko's politics, his reclusive nature and so on, and while I do find a lot of that fascinating, with this Omnibus (and the first volume) I'm just here for the art. In the last year or so I've been reading my way through a lot of the old Charlton Comics horror titles, such as Scary Tales and Ghost Manor. These contain tons of Ditko art that hasn't been reprinted since original publication. There are some Ditko gems in those comics. I've really come to appreciate Ditko's storytelling ability and the wide range of his art. There's plenty of that on view in the Steve Ditko Omnibus Vol II as well. Recommended.

Monday, January 09, 2012

Reading Report


I seem to be in one of those periods where I don't want to read novels. Or perhaps I'm just not finding novels that hold my attention. In any case, most of my weekend reading was short stories. I read a couple out of the recently acquired Whispers IV, including tales by Hugh B. Cave and Ramsey Campbell.
Then I dipped into New Cthulhu: The Recent Weird, a collection of newer Cthulhu mythos tales by folks like Caitlin Kiernan, Kim Newman, and Neil Gaiman. Some good stuff in there, but my only complaint is that too much is reprinted from the 2009 collection Lovecraft Unbound. Less than three years is too little time to include half a dozen stories from one book in another book, or that's my take anyway.
I went back to the Carcosa Press volume of Manly Wade Wellman's John Thunstone (and others) stories, Lonely Vigils. I'll probably have more to say about that later. I've recently been reading or re-reading all of the Thunstone adventures, and I'm sure I'll get around to talking about them. Might wait until the Haffner Press Complete John Thunstone book is out in April. Or not. We'll see.
Finally I jumped to the Harold Lamb Collection Swords From the West for the sanguinary romance, The Red Cock Crows, a tale of true love and much killing. Swords From the West may be my favorite volume in the Bison Books Lamb series, as it contains a big chunk of Lamb's crusader stories. I need to devote an entire post to Lamb's character Nial O'Gordon, who could have become Lamb's claim to fame, had there been more stories about him.
So anyway, my weekend was definitely a quality over quantity sort of thing. I do have a novel on the way from Amazon, The House of Silk, the new Sherlock Holmes pastiche that's been getting good reviews left and right. For now though, short and sweet seems to be the order of the day.

Sunday, January 08, 2012

The Other Whispers


Since so many folks recommended the Whispers series after I mentioned I'd picked up one volume,(and since I found the contents of that book to be excellent) I checked with the folks who sold me book IV and found that they had a set of all six books for a very good price, especially since, like the first one I bought, one of the others (volume V) had once belonged to writer Karl Edward Wagner. So those are winging their way to me as we speak. So now I'll own two books that once belonged to Wagner, and a full set of Whispers.

Saturday, January 07, 2012

So Dark a Heritage


This was Weird Tales stalwart Frank Belknap Long's first Gothic Romance novel. It came out in 1966 from Lancer books, publishers of the first Conan paperbacks, oddly enough. While this one has Long's name on the cover, his later books would appear under the pseudonym Lyda Belknap Long, using his wife's first name. The logic, presumably, was that women would be more likely to buy a romance written by a woman.
This is the third of Long's Gothics that I've read and it's the best written so far. The prose is smoother, the plotting more logical and the romance element is present throughout the book. In other words it seems as if Long was trying really hard on this one, perhaps because it was his first. Not that the other two I read were badly written, this one just seems to have had more thought put into it.
In this one, a woman named Louisa Delsarte receives word that her recently married sister, Emmeline, has died in a tragic (and rather gruesome) accident. Louisa sets out for New Orleans where her sister was living with her new husband Charles in Charles's creepy old mansion, Morisot Manor.
The first part of the book is understandably rather sad as Louisa attends her sister's funeral and deals with Emmeline's death. About a third of the way in though, the by now familiar Mood and Creepy factor kicks in as Long gets down to the stuff he knows best. Louisa is in for some ghostly happenings with a touch of voodoo and a little Satanism thrown in. As I noted, long seemed to be taking his time here, and things unfold in a less abrupt manner than in The Witch Tree. That may be bad or good, depending on how you like your Gothics. But the FBL trademark atmosphere is in place and Long gets to exercise some of his horror writer chops here too. All and all, I had fun with So Dark a Heritage. Think I'll wait a bit before I read another, though. I feel the need for something with more swords.

However, a word of advice before I go. Listen, if your sister is the heroine of a Gothic romance, you need to get out of town right now, because from what I've seen, you've got the life expectancy of a Star Trek Red-Shirt. Fathers don't fare well either. Actually, if any female member of your family takes a job as a governess at a creepy manor or castle, move to another country and change your name. I'm just saying.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Into Whose Hands


Yesterday I received a copy of Whispers IV, a horror anthology from 1983 edited by Stuart David Schiff. This is my first volume of the series and I know little about Schiff, other than he published a small press magazine called Whispers and presumably many of the stories in this book originally appeared in the magazine. (A quick look at the indicia shows this to be the case, though a few of the stories came from other sources and some are original to the book.)
What makes this copy of particular interest to me though is that this book was the property of Karl Edward Wagner. This was his personal copy and there's a letter from Schiff and some Xeroxed reviews of the book that Schiff enclosed included with the book. I got the book from a bookshop in Wagner's home town of Chapel Hill NC. The shop has several items from the estates of Wagner and Manly Wade Wellman.
It's a little odd to think that the book used to sit in Wagner's home and now it's in mine. The letter from Schiff is addressed to Karl and his then wife Barbara and it's a chatty missive discussing conventions and such. Schiff mentions he hopes Wagner will appear in Whispers V.
Fittingly enough,Wagner's contribution to Whispers IV is the story 'Into Whose Hands'.
Anyway, the book has gone from Wagner's library to mine. I'll take good care of it.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Reflections for the Winter of My Soul


An appropriate title, given we're in the bleak midwinter, and part of the reason I decided to re-read this Kane story by Karl Edward Wagner. Temperatures dipped into the teens last night and a wolfish wind came howling around the windows. It put me in mind of Wagner's creepy winter's tale, so I took down my copy of the Nightshade Press complete stories of Kane and followed Wagner's hero-villain into the teeth of a blizzard.
I only thought I was feeling the cold before. Once Wagner began to describe Kane's arduous trek through a whiteout nightmare I could almost feel the snow brushing against my skin. Reflections picks up some time after the events of the Kane novel Dark Crusade. Kane has taken a horrible vengeance on the prophet of Sataki but the few surviving priests of the order are tracking Kane relentlessly. Kane's flight takes him into the ice wastes where he soon finds himself lost in a snowstorm that he suspects may be of sorcerous origins.
Kane and his exhausted horse stumble upon a castle or manor house in the snow covered forest, where Kane collapses at the front door. He awakens to meet his host, his host's daughter, the host's son, a grouchy physician, a minstrel, and a few other characters. One of these folks thinks he's a werewolf. One of them really is a werewolf.
This is one of my favorite Kane stories, and not surprisingly one that has been optioned for a movie. (Though I think it's stuck in development hell.) The gloomy snow bound setting and the sinister cast, any of whom could be the werewolf, makes for a house party that would have sent Hercule Poirot running into the snow. There's much suspense and quite a bit of action as Kane faces foes human, animal, and supernatural. There's also a lot of the Gothic atmosphere Karl Edward Wagner was so fond of. It's not surprising that dark old castles feature in so many of Wagner's stories, as this is the classic Gothic setting. There's also the sort of virginal heroine who was so beloved of the classic Gothic authors. Well, unless she's the werewolf. Wagner does a good job of keeping the reader guessing the identity of the creature. Just when you think you've got it figured out, Wagner tosses a red herring your way.
Whoever the werewolf is, he or she squares off against Kane in a final battle that's both harrowing and well thought out. Once Kane realizes that he has to take on the werewolf hand to hand, he goes into it with all his skill and his centuries of knowledge. Kane, in case you've forgotten, is the biblical Cain, the first killer and still the best.
I recall thinking, a few years ago, when I first saw the Doctor Who episode Tooth and Claw, with its well realized CGI werewolf, that we finally have the special effects technology to do Reflections justice. In fact I also wondered if the writer of Tooth and Claw might have read Wagner's story. There aren't many similarities, but there are a few. I do think it would make an excellent movie.
Anyway, I was reminded as I reread Reflections For the Winter of My Soul (Great title!) what a good writer Karl Edward Wagner was. The man could not only spin a tale, but he could do so with such vivid imagery that he put you right there in the middle of the action. Just read those first few pages where Kane is fighting his way through the blizzard and I think you'll see what I mean. And then hang around until the werewolf shows up.

Monday, January 02, 2012

Cool Hand Kharrn


Things have taken an ugly turn in Lord of the Rings online. Kharrn loses a confrontation with Saruman and ends up a prisoner in the depths of Isengard. Note the prison uniform. I must congratulate the developers on their willingness to try something different in an MMO. Now for a jailbreak...

A New Year

2011, somewhat surprisingly, turned out to be my third most prolific year of blogging, reversing a downward trend since 2008 and only failing to match that second biggest blog year by a mere 7 posts. Guess I had a lot to talk about last year. Actually it was a good year for writing in general. I wrote a couple of short stories that I liked a great deal, I saw one story published, and I finally completed a novel.
So what does 2012 hold in store? Hopefully the publication of said novel, more stories, and more blogging. Other than that I can't really say. I'm not a maker of resolutions, and I have no firm plans for anything. It would be nice if I could take an actual vacation trip, but that hasn't panned out the last couple of years, so we'll see.
I have a couple of interesting things going on, but I'll wait and blog about those when I have more details. Today is the last day off before I have to return to work so I plan to be in extra-sloth mode. Hope everyone's New Year is going well.