Saturday, March 29, 2014

ONCE Again

   The third season of ABC's ONCE UPON A TIME Got off to a good start with the main cast members sailing through a dimensional portal to save Emma's son Henry, who had been spirited off to Neverland. Unfortunately, once the gang reached Neverland they spent what seemed like an eternity wandering through the same island jungle sets over and over interminably. Even the considerable charms of the Evil Queen (Lana Parrilla) weren't enough to save a season that had lost its momentum.
   The season took a break after the evil Peter Pan had been defeated, but it returned three weeks ago, much improved. I've seen three new episodes so far and the show has returned to what made it work. The magically created town of Storybrooke, which was almost entirely absent from the first part of the season, is back front and center. And there's mystery afoot. It seems that the cast has lost a year of their lives. No one can remember what happened after Regina, The Queen, reversed the curse from season one,  sending them all back to the enchanted realm. Now they're back in Storybrooke with no idea what happened for an entire year.
   There's a new villain too, The Wicked Witch of the West from Oz, played with scenery chewing relish by Rebecca Mader. More stuff has happened in the first three episodes than happened in the entirety of the first part of season three. A stepped up pace is a good thing.
   So anyway, yeah glad to see the show getting back to form.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Putting the Conan Back in Conan Doyle

  My latest Conan team-up commission, this one from the very talented artist Dana Black. Dana asked me if I wanted 'old school' Sherlock Holmes and I mentioned that Jeremy Brett was my favorite Holmes actor. He both surprised and delighted me by actually drawing Holmes with Brett's likeness.Thanks, Dana!

Sunday, March 23, 2014


Three nifty items form the comic book store and one that came in the mail. All and all a good week.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Hellboy Day

It's Hellboy Day, so here's a sketch I did in Microsoft Paint just for fun!

Talus and the Frozen King

 " A dead warrior king frozen in winter ice. Six grieving sons, each with his own reason to kill. Two weary travelers caught up in a web of suspicion and deceit."

   How do you search for justice in a world that has yet to invent the term or even the concept? Where death, even, murder, is just something that happens. This is the question that author Graham Edwards poses and deftly answers in his new novel, TALUS AND THE FROZEN KING.
   Talus, the wandering bard and his friend Bran are travelers in Neolithic Scotland. They stumble across the small island community of Creyak just in time to get accused of the murder of Creyak's king, who was found frozen in the snow. Fortunately Talus's cleverness keeps the guys alive long enough for them to be cleared of the murder, but Talus burns with an insatiable curiosity and he won't leave Creyak until he gets to the bottom of the crime.
   Though not clones of Sherlock Holmes and John Watson, there are definitely similarities between the classic sleuths and the stone-age detectives. Talus is quirky, brilliant, and somewhat hard to get along with. He has Holmes' flair for the dramatic (Hello, he's a bard) and ability to notice things that everyone else would miss. Bran is solid and stolid, but possesses quite a bit more emotional range than Watson. (Not that this would be difficult. Watson was a brick.) Bran has lost his wife in a tragic occurrence and part of the reason he's wandering is to try and make sense of a world without her in it.
   The series is subtitled THE WORLD'S FIRST DETECTIVE, and that makes for some interesting and humorous scenes. How do you draw a diagram of a crime scene in a world where maps don't exist and the very abstract idea is too much for a large segment of the population to grasp? I don't think Talus will be making any calls to the CSI team.
   Anyway, I've read a ton of whodunits, so I know how they work and this is a good one. The characters are likeable, and the plot is well thought out and plays fair. I read this in two sittings, so that shows that I enjoyed it. I would definitely read the next book in the series. My only concern for the series is one of marketing. The cover looks like a fantasy novel and in some ways it is, because Edwards is writing about a time period we have few records of, and is therefore inventing a world,language, etc much as he would have to do for a full out fantasy. But the plot is pure mystery. I'm afraid that fantasy readers may be upset that the book isn't what they were expecting and mystery readers might not find it. And that would be a shame, because it's a really fun book. Hopefully it will find an audience and there will be plenty of sequels to follow.

For more on Graham Edwards go to his website here.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

'Real' Magic in Horror Fiction

In a letter to a young Willis Conover, H.P. Lovecraft explains a great deal about 'real' grimoires, volumes of magic from past times. At the end of the explanation Lovecraft says,

   "But you will undoubtedly find all of this stuff very disappointing. It is flat, childish, pompous, and unconvincing-merely a record of human childishness and gullibility in past ages. Any good fiction-writer can think up 'records of primal horror' which surpass in imaginative force any occult production which has sprung from genuine credulousness."

   I've seen Lovecraft say the same thing in other letters and it's why, I suppose, he and those in his circle, made up their blasphemous books from whole cloth. Cultes des Ghoules, Nameless Cults, Mysteries of the Worm, and of course the fabled Necronomicon, are but a few of the grimoires created by HPL and the gang. It seems that Lovecraft basically thought that using 'real' magic books was a waste of time.
   William Hope Hodgson, the creator of Carnacki the Ghost Finder, apparently agreed. Carnacki is famous for his use of various lines of the 'Saaamaaa Ritual' from the 'Sigsand Manuscript', an ancient text created by Hodgson.
   On the other hand, horror legend, Manly Wade Wellman, enjoyed using real books in his stories, many of which he owned in his personal library. In the stories of John the Balladeer and other Southern fantasy and horror tales, Wellman liked to invoke 'The Long Lost Friend' which is a book of white magic. I have a copy of this and did reference it in the novel Congregations of the Dead.
   When James A. Moore and I were writing the novel Blind Shadows, I tried to pay homage to Wellman by having my occult detective, Carter Decamp, use some of the same books Wellman had referenced, including Spense's Encyclopedia of Occultism (Lovecraft DID own a copy of this one), Cotton Mather's Wonders of the invisible World, and of course the famous 1487 edition of Malleus Maleficarum, beloved by Witchfinders everywhere.
   I do think that use of such real books adds a bit of verisimilitude for those in the know about such things. I know I got a kick out of it in the John the Balladeer and John Thunstone stories.
   However I have also added my own fictional grimoire 'The Silent History' to the Cthulhu Mythos shelf. It contains lore so dangerous that it must never, ever, be read aloud. Remember, things are listening out there in the outer dark.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

A Game of Memories Down at the Silver Eel

There's a nifty fanzine, published in 1978, called The Silver Eel, (The Eel was the favorite watering hole for Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser) and if you're a big fan of Fritz Leiber, as I am, you need a copy. It contains, among other things, an appreciation of Leiber by Karl Edward Wagner, a remembrance by Harry Otto Fischer, who created the original versions of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, and who was himself the model for the Mouser, an interview with Leiber, and a bibliography of the Fafhrd and Mouser stories. It also has a bunch of other articles, cover reproductions, and a ton of artwork. This item usually goes for $10.00  to $20.00 on Ebay and at the moment doesn't seem hard to find. Go get one. You won't be disappointed.
   Anyway, as I was re-reading the interview with Leiber this morning, I was reminded of an odd incident from my childhood. I discovered Leiber and his two sword & sorcery heroes in the early 1970s. In fact I read Leiber before I read Robert E. Howard, the Conan books being out of print at the time. I was a huge fan of Fafhrd and the Mouser. Now here's the thing. In 1977 I was living in the small Northern Georgia town of Canton, which sits at the foothills of the Blue-ridge Mountains. In those days the place was major league Podunk. The town didn't have a bookstore. It didn't even have any of the fast food chains like MacDonalds or Burger King. It did have a locally owned fast food place called the Burger Chief. (The Burger Chief's claim to fame was an item called the Deluxe Burger which was a big cheeseburger topped with coleslaw.) There was also a Dairy Queen, but it only served ice cream. No food.(I know. My family owned it.)
   Canton also didn't have any convenience stores, but it had several small mom and pop groceries. Those sorts of places were on their way out even in 1977 so I don't know what possessed someone in Canton to open a new one, but they did, right at the bottom of a long hill where HWY 5 intersected HWY 20. It seems in my memory that that this new small store was very well stocked. Maybe it was part of a chain. I can't recall the name of the place, but it was only open a year or two. In any case, on one visit my dad and I made to the place I saw that the store had put in a small magazine rack. I was disappointed that there weren't any comic books I'm sure, but then my gaze fell on a magazine called Cosmos Science Fiction and Fantasy. I picked it up and leafed through the magazine, only to find that it contained a BRAND NEW Fafhrd and Mouser story called Rime Isle.
    Now how this rather esoteric magazine ended up in this short lived grocery store in a Podunk small town I'll never know. But I knew it was meant for me. That was a long time ago, and I don't know what happened to that magazine. Probably lost it when I moved a while back. But I do remember the thrill of finding that new story. Here was sword & sorcery by one of my heroes that wasn't a reprint from a musty old pulp magazine. This was hot off the press and it was all mine. Rime Isle was eventually collected with some other stories in Swords & Ice Magic, the last of the 'Swords' collections. (Next to the last if you count The Knight and Knave of Swords, but I don't.)
   So there ya go. Funny how a little something will nudge a long dormant memory.

Friday, March 14, 2014

All Greek to Me

My buddy Jared gave me this Greek issue of Savage Sword of Conan. I can't read a word of it, of course, but isn't it nifty? Now I have Swedish SSoC and Greek SSoC. I may have to start a new collection of International issues.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Zombies From the Pulps!

   Okay, I bought this one for the Kindle as soon as it hit Amazon and I know a lot of you are going to want a copy as well. These are old school zombie stories, scary as all get out, including legendary tales like Robert E. Howard's 'Pigeons From Hell' and Clark Ashton Smith's 'The Empire of the Necromancers', along with classic stories of the walking dead from H.P. Lovecraft, Manly Wade Wellman, Henry Kuttner, Seabury Quinn, and more top pulp writers than you can shake a re-animated corpse at.
   A lot of these I've read before, but some are new to me, so I was all over this. It's available as a print book as well. Details here.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Thundering in Darkness

I've been reading through Essential Solitude, which is a two-volume collection of letters between H.P. Lovecraft and August Derleth. Actually it's mostly Lovecraft's letters, as not that many of Derleth's survive, but then again, most people are probably more interested in HPL anyway. Still, it's nice to see both sides of the conversation when I can.
   Last night I came across a long letter from HPL, describing a visit he had made to Tennessee in the early 1930s. During that trip, Lovecraft visited Lookout Mountain and Ruby Falls. It's been years since I've been to either, but I always find it kind of interesting when my path crosses that of any of my writer idols, and Ruby Falls is not only a place that both HPL and CRR have visited, but it's a particularly Lovecraftian place anyway.
   If you're not familiar with Ruby Falls, it's an underground waterfall inside of Lookout Mountain. It was discovered by accident in 1928 while a man named Lambert was digging a shaft to another cavern, planning a tourist attraction. He certainly got a better attraction than he expected. The falls would only have been known for a few years when Lovecraft visited, and of course he latched on to a particularly macabre fact about the falls. Since there had been no natural opening to the cavern, no human had ever seen this spectacular sight until its accidental discovery. For untold ages the falls had thundered in the pitch darkness with no eyes to see it.