Sunday, December 31, 2006
Saturday, December 30, 2006
So what have I been reading over the Holidays? Lots of stuff. Read Fear of the Dark, which is the third in Walter Mosley's series about Fearless Jones. I'd read Mosley's other series character, Easy rawlins for several years before I thought the series went a little stale and abandoned it. The new series has much in common with the old. It's set in the 1950s in Los Angeles and follows the exploits of two black men, Paris Minton and Fearless Jones. They're polar opposites with Paris being afraid of nearly everything and Fearless being, well...fearless. The books remind me a little of Raymond Chandler in that they don't really seem to have plots. Just a lot of character development broken up by the occasional action scene. There's a lot of meditation on race, hatred, and the human condition. Interesting stuff.
Also read Philip Jose Farmer's A Feast Unknown. This is the X-rated version of Farmer's Tarzan/Doc Savage pastiche. I'm serious. The sex and violence in this book is so over the top, I can't believe it was written almost 40 years ago. It's still strong stuff to this day. It's unfortunate, because plot wise and idea wise, this is one of Farmer's best books, but the content would keep me from recommending it to just anyone. It is definitely not for the squeamish.
Caesar: A Biography. It's a biography of Caesar. Duh. This one's by Christian Mieir, and it's one of the better bios of Julius Caesar I've read. Concise and accessible. I'll be recommending it to folks who are interested in the Roman civilization. And really, if you're an American you should probably study the Romans at some point. Our government is based on their republic and the more I read about them, the more parallels I see between the Romans and the US. Not all of them good.
Tarzan and the Castaways. One of the last Tarzan books that Edgar Rice Burroughs wrote. Basically as Tarzan books go, everything after Tarzan at the Earth's Core, book 13 of 24, is downhill. ERB was reportedly tired of chronicling the adventures of the jungle lord and the books became more and more formula ridden and uninspired.
Burroughs seems to have gotten a second wind with The Castaways, However. He takes a captive Tarzan out of Africa and into the South Seas where he tries to help the survivors of a ship wreck survive on a dangerous island. There's a lost city, of course, but this one is populated by the remnants of an Aztec colony, which is a bit more plausible than some of ERB's other lost race stories. A lot of fun.
Jongor Fights Back. The last of three books by Robert Moore Williams about Jongor, a Tarzan clone who is actually something of a predecessor of Marvel Comics second incarnation of Kazar. Jongor rules over a jungle in a place called Lost Land, populated by dinosaurs, beast men, and other odd creatures. As far as Tarzan rip-offs go, this one is pretty entertaining. The Jongor stories were originally published in the pulps in the early 1950s, so it's very possible that Jack Kirby, a voracious reader, was familiar with Jongor and might have had Jongor and the Lost Land in mind when he and Stan Lee introduced Kazar and the Savage Land in the pages of X-Men.
Friday, December 29, 2006
I had checked the Guild Wars web page to make sure that I could carry my existing GW character, Ellak, into the new environment. They said, sure, just make sure you add the access code for the new release to your existing account. And so I did.
What they didn't tell me was that you have to finish a pretty seriously difficult quest in the original game before you can travel to the new world. Now, I'm a casual player. I generally only play an hour or two at a time and I often don't play for weeks. This means I've been leveling up slowly. The level cap for GW is 20 and I'm like 14 and a half. Powerful enough in a group, but I couldn't beat this quest solo and Laura has guest for the Holidays and isn't online. Laura and I have a winning technique. She's a mage/healer and I'm a Tank. That means I kill stuff and she heals me while I'm fighting. Gets us through most battles. But without her I just kept getting killed. Now I could have waited until next week to do the quest when she could help me, but I was impatient to see the new environment.
So I had my little armored avatar hanging out outside the gate that led to the quest and I started typing on the general chat "Need others for quest." It took a bit, but eventually five other players joined me, all except one who were higher level than me, and they went into the fight with me. These were all really good players and they really did most of the work. One was so high level that he killed most of the bad guys singlehandedly. I killed a couple, but the quest was over almost before I knew it. A couple of these folks didn't even need that particular quest. They just went in to help out a fellow player.
Gamers get a bad rap sometimes, and there are certainly a vast number of online trolls, lamers, and player killers, but there are also some darn friendly, helpful folks. Thanks for the back up, guys.
Sunday, December 24, 2006
Favorite Christmas Toy? Probably The G.I. Joe Adventure Team Headquarters pictured left. Got this in the early 1970s. (No I don't still have it. These pics are from Ebay.)
It was really nifty. See the upper left pic? That's it all closed up and ready to carry out to your back yard or down to the creek. (Once when I took it to the creek, a Copperhead got inside of it. THAT was an adventure.)
Upper right shows the command chair. It slides up and down that pole so Joe can sit upstairs and look out the big picture window. (see lower right.)
All that stuff in the lower left pic? Searchlight, map table, equipment racks. This was a major major neato toy. My cousin Rick had one too and we would sometimes combine them into one giant SUPER Headquarters. I can still remember finding that under the tree.
In one of those touching and all too human moments, a very frail looking old woman came into the room on her walker. She went quietly to the end of the table and sat down. I've no idea who she was. Given the age and mental condition of many of the residents she might have though we were actually her family. Perhaps she was just lonely. One of my cousins asked her if she would like some cake and she nodded, so my cousin gave her some cake and a glass of Sprite and she sat there the entire time while my family exchanged gifts and laughed and carried on. Eventually another lady came in, this one in a wheel chair and she joined us too. I talked to her for a bit and we admired the Christmas tree. She had some cake. Unlike the first lady, this one seemed to know we were related to one of her fellow residents. After a while she wheeled herself away, but she turned to me as she left and said, "You have a nice family."
She's right. I forget that sometimes. Merry Christmas.
Anyway, I had a big breakfast early this morning so I didn't get hungry again until a little before 4:00. I knew that I needed to put some gas in the truck before heading North and my usual gas station is across the street from a Zaxby's, so I figured I'd fill up the tank, then grab a chicken sandwich on my way back.
Zaxby's was closed.
Hmmm, I thought. Why the heck is a fast food place closed on Christmas Eve? It's not like this is a major holiday. Many places may close early but it's not quite 4:00.
So I decided I'd swing in to Los Reyes, a Mexican restaurant that's on my way back to my apartment.
Los Reyes was closed.
At this point I was starting to get a little irritated. I mean, all I wanted was a quick bite to eat. (And yes I have food at home but that's not the point.) So I drove up the street to Wendy's. THEY were open and I got a chicken sandwich and a coke and came back, sneering at Zaxby's and Los Reyes as I passed.
Friday, December 22, 2006
Thursday, December 21, 2006
Hey little Santa, where is your sleigh,
Hey little Santa, time to ride away,
Hey little Santa, who is on your list,
Hey little Santa, who gets toys this year,
Hey little Santa, Pop Gun!
It's a nice day to... ride again.
It's nice day for a White Christmas.
It's a nice day to... ride again.
Hey little Santa, where are my toys,
Hey little Santa, all the girls and boys,
We've let you go for so long,
You've stayed away for so long,
We've missed you so for so long
It's a nice day to ride again. (Come on!)
It's nice day for a White Christmas.
It's a nice day to... ride again.
Well there are no toys in this world
No more simple joys in this world
But there must be toys in this world,
For the girls and boys in this world,
Yeah there must be toys in this world
Come on, it's a nice day for a White Christmas,
It's a nice day to ride again.
Come on, it's a nice day for a White Christmas,
It's a nice day to ride again.
Wednesday, December 20, 2006
You know how people say they've been struck speechless. That was me tonight. Had several seconds where I couldn't form words. Know why? See that book cover painting to the left? I own that painting now. My pal Cliff gave it to me for Christmas. Cliff knows how much I love the Lin Carter Callisto books. I'll have to write more about it them later, but you'd have to know me to know how thrilled I am. I'm going to bed now and dream of adventures on other worlds.
Monday, December 18, 2006
Never one to rest on his laurels, Mike has gone on to be a major literary writer in the United Kingdom with such critically acclaimed novels as Mother London and King of the City. Yet he has never forgotten his roots and still turns out quality fantasy novels and swashbuckling tales of Sword & Sorcery. So happy Birthday, Mike! Thanks for all the years of great reading.
I'll try some of my other old standbys later in the week. Read The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes Christmas tale and maybe August Derleth's Adventure of the Unique Dickensians.
I saved the Christmas episode of Doctor Who on the first season boxed set. It has Charles Dickens and zombies. That should help.
Wednesday will be the Christmas get together at Dr. No's, my pal Cliff's comic store, where I'll gather with my good friends. That should help too.
And if none of that does the trick, well, I'll just have to call this year a wash and hope next year will be better.
Sunday, December 17, 2006
McGee was an interesting character, part private eye, part con man, and part knight errant. He worked as a 'salvage' expert, recovering things that had been stolen for people who couldn't go to the police for whatever reasons. The deal was, whatever he recovered, he kept half of. This allowed him to "take his retirement in installments."
McGee lived on a houseboat in Fort Lauderdale Florida and MacDonald's descriptions of the sunshine state have never been equaled. Reading the McGee books one can feel the heat and smell the ocean and see the scrub palms and the wind blown sand.
In the Lonely Silver Rain, McGee is asked to find a stolen yacht by an old friend. He manages to do so but there are three murdered and mutilated corpses on board, apparently the victims of a drug deal gone wrong. McGee leaves the boat where he finds it and makes an anonymous call to the coast guard. He collects his money and calls the deal closed. But a few weeks later someone tries to kill McGee with a mail bomb. McGee spends the rest of the book trying to find out why someone is trying to kill him and to stay a step ahead of their attempts. It's a great, suspenseful story.
One can also tell that it was written by a man who was suffering from health problems and knew he didn't have long. McGee is constantly obsessed with his own age and mortality in this book, and the death of an old lover and an important revelation forms an unexpected postscript to the main plot.
I discovered McGee in time to buy three hardbacks off the bookstore shelves, beginning with Free Fall in Crimson and followed by Cinnamon Skin. The Lonely Silver Rain was the 21st book in the McGee series. There would be no more. Re-reading the book over twenty years later I still find that MacDonald's prose sings. It has what Raymond Chandler called "echoes beyond a distant hill." The characters stay with you a long time after the book is closed. Might have to re-read a few more McGees soon. I find that I've missed him.
Saturday, December 16, 2006
Okay, where were we? 1980 or so. I am again trying to read the Lord of the Rings. This time it sticks. Though I still find it a bit slow, I'm beginning to enjoy it and make my way through all three volumes. This is where Jimmy Buffet comes in. My best friend in my last couple of years of high school was a guy named Barry Wofford. Barry was very into photography and movies, so he and I ended up going to the see a lot of movies. Barry was also a fan of Jimmy Buffet, and was constantly playing Buffet's songs on his car stereo as we wandered around as teenagers will. One of those songs, called “Incommunicado', has a line that goes, “Travis McGee's still in Cedar Key, That's what John MacDonald said,”. Hearing that line I had some vague recollection that Travis McGee was a character in a series of books that all had a color used in the title.
On my next trip to the local library (which was just a couple of weeks after finishing LotR) I checked the fiction aisle for John D. MacDonald and found several of the books. I picked one at random, A Tan and Sandy Silence. That book blew me away. It handled violence in a brutal and realistic way, nothing like the swashbuckling adventures I'd been reading, and it contained quite a bit of sex, though not really graphic. Still, this was strong stuff. I ended up reading The Deep Blue Goodbye, One Fearful Yellow Eye, and Bright Orange for the Shroud in rapid succession. I was hooked. Only a few weeks after reading the Lord of the Rings, I had been shanghaied into the world of crime fiction. I wouldn't look back for close to two decades.
Much as I had sought out other sword & sorcery writers after discovering Conan, I started looking for writers who were working in the same vein as MacDonald. On the library shelves I found Dasheill Hammett (The Maltese Falcon, The Thin Man), Raymond Chandler (The Big Sleep, The Long Goodbye) and Ross MacDonald (The Drowning Pool, Sleeping Beauty).
In the bookstores I discovered Robert B. Parker, Lawrence Block, Mickey Spillane, James Crumly, Sue Grafton, Marcia Muller, Bill Pronzini, Robert Randisi, and later Andrew Vachss, James Ellroy, Robert Crais, and a host of other hardboiled writers. Just as I had once immersed myself in sword & sorcery novels, I now ate, slept, and breathed hardboiled crime fiction.
Over the years I also started reading other kinds of mystery fiction, form classic whodunits to historicals to so called Dark Suspense. I read true crime, followed famous criminal cases and became obsessed with that father of detectives, Sherlock Holmes. (More on him another time.)
Now lets jump ahead to 1998. I've been reading crime fiction for about 20 years now. It's pretty much my only genre reading. I don't even visit the SF/Fantasy section of the bookstore. By this point I've also started reading tons of non fiction, mostly history and biography. So one day I'm wandering through the Borders Bookstore in Atlanta and the cover of a trade paperback on an end cap catches my eye. The cover shows a man in black armor, holding a massive ax and being menaced by some sort of demons. On a whim I pick up the book. It's called The First Chronicles of Druss the Legend, by someone named David Gemmell. To this day I can't tell you exactly why I bought the book. Maybe I was just in the mood for something different. Maybe something in me just responded to the image. In any event, I did buy it and read it, and then sought out more books by Gemmell. He reminded me of Robert E. Howard I think. The forcefulness of his prose and the direct nature of his hero. Like Conan, Druss tended to solve most problems by bowling them over and chopping them to bits.
Reading Gemmell led to me going back and re-reading the sword & sorcery books I'd read as a kid. I'm still at it. These days I read in many genres, and many non fiction subjects. But I still have a soft spot for tough guy heroes whether they carry swords or guns. I should mention in closing that David Gemmell died this year. He had a lot of health problems and he fought them bravely for a long time. I wish now I had written to him and thanked him for bringing me back to the fantasy genre. Too late now, but I'll say it here. Thanks, David. I owe you one.
This will be a bit of autobiographical rambling. Just a warning. Anyone who's been reading the past couple of months worth of posts here might think that my reading matter consists primarily of Robert E. Howard and Edgar Rice Burroughs and related authors. That's right and wrong. I have an obsessive personality. Whatever I'm interested in tends to completely absorb all my thoughts. Right at the moment it's sword & sorcery, so that means I'm talking about Conan and Tarzan, Elric and Kane, and all the other S&S heroes. It might even seem to someone who doesn't know me that I've been a life long reader of this material. This too is right and wrong. I started reading sword & sorcery when I was 12 and I stopped when I was 19. I wouldn't touch another fantasy book for almost twenty years, returning to the fold when I was 38.
Today I've been thinking about how that happened. It involves the Lord of the Rings, Jimmy Buffet, John D. MacDonald, a guy with a big ax, and a leper. I discovered Sword & Sorcery through comic books. That's been covered in an earlier post. (See Crom Bless Us, Everyone) Once I found the genre, I collected all the S&S I could find, reading Michael Moorcock, Lin Carter, John Jakes, Alan Burt Akers, Lin Carter, Fritz Lieber, Gardner Fox, and other writers I can't think of right now. At the top was Robert E. Howard, and to some degree Edgar Rice Burroughs, though ERB's work can't strictly be called sword & sorcery. It covers much of the same territory however, particularly his books about Mars.
Now keep in mind, this wasn't the only thing I was reading during this period. I was reading tons of more traditional Science Fiction. Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, Frank Herbert, Ray Bradbury, Larry Niven, and so on. I was also reading Doc Savage novels hand over fist. I also managed to read my way through a surprising amount of the classics. I loved Charles Dickens and Mark Twain. I read Alexander Dumas, Sir Walter Scott, Robert Louis Stevenson, Jack London, and many others. I just plain loved to read.
But the one book I could not seem to get through was The Lord of the Rings. I tried the Fellowship of the Ring at age 15, but after a steady diet of Conan and John Carter of Mars, I found it slow going. I tried again the following year, made it a little farther, and gave up again about the time the Hobbits took a shortcut to mushrooms. Just wasn't holding my attention.
Jump to 1979. I am a junior in high school. My mother belonged to the Doubleday book Club. You know the kind. Sends out a catalog every month and usually a book of the month. Knowing how much I loved to read, mom kept an eye out for any books I might like. She spotted a trilogy that sounded like it might be my cup of tea, The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, the Unbeliever. Covenant is the leper I mentioned earlier. The descriptions in the catalog did indeed sound promising. A contemporary man, thrust into a world of magical creatures and warring armies. Sounded kind of like John Carter. I asked mom to order the books.
As it turned out, the books owed far more to J.R.R. Tolkien that to ERB. They too were a bit slow, but the character of Covenant, a man afflicted with leprosy who steadfastly refused to believe in magic or the land into which he had been transported, held my attention. The books ran about 400 pages each, not far short of the Lord of the Rings, and when I finished them, I decided that I would once more attempt Tolkien's epic saga.
Jeez, this is turning into a long post. Let's break here, and pick up with part two a little later.
Friday, December 15, 2006
I finished Christmas shopping Yesterday. My list is not huge, usually about eleven people, and most years I'm done shopping by Thanksgiving. It used to be a running joke in my family. It's Thanksgiving so Charles must be finished shopping. I almost made it. I still had three presents to go on November 23rd. One of those arrived by mail last week and I handled the other two yesterday.
My dad and I used to like to go to the shopping mall on Christmas Eve and watch the desperation set in. Wild eyed people, wandering panic stricken from store to store, checking off lists, scrambling to find the last doll or game. Tears, screaming, fear and loathing. The occasional shouting match. Real peace on earth, good will toward men kind of stuff.
Nowadays the Malls are so crowded by the day before Christmas that the traffic keeps us from going to watch the carnage. Just too much trouble to get in and out of the parking lot. Sometimes I kinda miss the action. Ah. memories.
A good idea, but wrong. That particular Quick Trip didn't have them. Checked my watch. Time for one more stop before I'll be late for work, and if you read the 'Six Weird Things' post down the page a little, you know that late for work is not acceptable. In my minds eye, I project a map of the other convenience stores that are possible outlets for Mrs. Field's peanut butter cookies. I reject two as too far away and head for the only one that will allow me to still reach work by my appointed time. Time grows short and this is my last chance before giving up and having one of the pop tarts I keep in my desk for breakfast instead of the much desired peanut butter cookie.
I reach the convenience store and hurry in out of the fog, eyes scanning the shelves even as the door is closing behind me, and YES, there are several big boxes of Mrs. Field's cookies. They have the Chocolate Chip, The Special Dark Chocolate Chip, the White Chocolate Macadamia Nut, and the Holy Grail which I seek, the Peanut Butter cookies. I snatch up two, pay the cashier and hurry back to the truck.
The cookies are gone as I sit here at my desk, typing when I should be drafting. They were quite tasty. Nowhere in the realm of Bonnie's homemade cookies, made with Beth's special recipe I'm sure, but hey, it satisfied the craving. Okay, must draw now.
Wednesday, December 13, 2006
Monday, December 11, 2006
I get a kick out of all the other comic strips as well. The Rome paper has The Phantom and Dick Tracy, which are two of my favorites from way back. Between the other papers I also get to read Mutts, Snuffy Smith, B.C., The Wizard of Id, and the classic reprints of Peanuts. I am constantly amazed at how funny and insightful the old Peanuts strips are.
I have long been fascinated by the American comic strip. My parents gave me a book called the History of the Comic Strip by Maurice Horn when I was eight or nine. That led to me checking out big hardbound collections of old comic strips from the local library. This was before I started seriously reading comic books, so I actually learned to recognize the works of Milton Caniff, Alex Raymond, Burne Hogarth, and Hal Foster before I ever heard of Jack Kirby, Will Eisner, Alex Toth, Jack Cole, and all the other pioneers of comic books. In some ways this is fitting since it was the work of Foster and company that originally inspired the early writers and artists of comic books. The first Superman and Batman stories contain art swipes from Foster and Raymond respectively, in fact.
Anyway, in case I haven't said thanks lately, Thanks Cliff, for saving the Sunday funnies for me, and helping me keep in touch with my favorite American artform.
Sunday, December 10, 2006
This weekend I've been reading the works of Philip Jose Farmer. Farmer is a science fiction writer, probably best known for his Riverworld series. He's also a dyed in the wool fan of pulp characters like the Shadow, Doc Savage, and most of all Tarzan. So great is Farmer's obsession that he even wrote a full scale biography of the jungle lord called Tarzan Alive. This book, patterned after William S. Baring-Gould's Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street, adopts the idea that Tarzan was a real person and that the books of Edgar Rice Burroughs were fictionalized accounts of Lord Greystoke's life.
Farmer works his way through all 24 of the Tarzan novels, explaining what events 'really' happened and what were fictional, revealing the real world identities of various characters in the books and explaining away many of the internal inconsistencies in the series. There are maps and charts and family trees and long involved timeliness of the life and times of everyone's favorite ape man.
Farmer also gives a huge extended family tree of the 'Wold Newton Family.' Wold Newton is a spot in Yorkshire County in England where a meteor struck in 1795. At the time that the meteor landed, two large coaches, containing fourteen passengers and four coachmen were passing by. The radiation from the meteor changed the genetic structure of these passengers who went on to be the ancestors of most of the fictional supermen of the next several decades, including Tarzan, Doc Savage, Sherlock Holmes, Nero Wolfe, Captain Nemo, and many others. Thus most of the pulp characters and heroes of popular fiction are related and owe their super human mental and or physical abilities to the Wold Newton event. This has become a sort of huge game played by writers and artists ever since Farmer introduced the idea. For more about it, see Win Scott Eckert's exhaustive Wold Newton site. http://www.pjfarmer.com/woldnewton/Pulp.htm
Anyway, after re-reading Tarzan Alive, I also read Farmer's two novels about Opar, Flight to Opar and Hadon of Ancient Opar. As every school boy knows, Opar is the lost city that Tarzan visits in several of the novels and where he meets Queen La and her beast-men servants. Opar was an Atlantean colony, abandoned when Atlantis sank. Farmer's two novels take place 12 thousand years ago when Opar was still a thriving city, in fact only one of several Atlantean cities that once existed in Africa. I'm always amazed at the amount of anthropological detail Farmer puts into works such as this. Flight to Opar has an appendix explaining much about the culture of Atlantean society, and the narrative itself is written with sufficient 'historical' details to make one almost believe that Farmer was writing about a real place and time.
The two Opar books are out of print, but Tarzan Alive has recently been reprinted by Bison books with some new material, and Monkey Brain Books has recently released a volume about the Wold Newton Family titled Myths for the Modern Age. Well worth checking out.
Saturday, December 09, 2006
1. I have never had an alcoholic drink. None. Zip. Nada. No beer. No wine. Nothing. This is in no way a moral decision or statement. My parents drink, My brother drinks. Some of my friends drink. Somehow I just never got around to it.
2. I am pathologically punctual. I live in absolute dread of being late. If I'm supposed to show up at a friend's apartment at 6:00, I'll be sitting in the parking lot reading a book at 5:45, so I can walk up to the door at 5:59 and thirty seconds.
3. I have read over 10 thousand books in my lifetime. Possibly approaching 20 thousand. Now some of my friends wouldn't find that weird at all, but the average person just freaks out, and I suspect many of them think I'm lying. True though. Until I moved a couple of years back I actually still owned over five thousand.
4. I know how many licks it takes to get to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop without biting. I counted when I was about 10 and have always remembered. The world may never know, but I do.
5. I can print upside down and from right to left as easily as I print upside right and from left to right. No idea why. I have often weirded out people sitting across from me who asked me to write my address or something down by quickly scribbling it upside right for them but upside down for me. I didn't realize this was in any way unusual until I was about 16. I thought everyone could do it.
6. I am always completely dressed when I'm at home. Once out of the shower I put on pants, shirt, socks and shoes, even if I'm not going anywhere. I don't own lounging clothes. Never wander around barefoot. I can step out the door at a moments notice.
That's it. I'm not tagging anyone either, but feel free to join the party.
Friday, December 08, 2006
Wednesday, December 06, 2006
Best Christmas ever? Easy. 1973. That's when I first met Conan. My Aunt Eula, (Don't laugh. She had sisters named Myrtle and Sue.) knowing that I loved comic books, went to the drugstore and bought me 10 comics at random. She had no idea what I collected and in 1973 I was a dyed in the wool DC Zombie. I only read comics starring members of the Justice League of America. None of those fly by night, catch penny Marvel comics for me. Aunt Eula of course, had no way of knowing this and if I remember correctly, at least eight of those ten comics were Marvels. I know there was an issue of Spiderman, a Captain America, a Hulk and a Fantastic Four. I probably didn't hide my disappointment too well. Kids generally don't.
Anyway, among the comics was a title called Conan the Barbarian. It was issue #36. I remember going to the dictionary and looking up the word barbarian because I didn't know what it meant. The dictionary wasn't actually very helpful.
1 : of or relating to a land, culture, or people alien and usually believed to be inferior to another land, culture, or people2 : lacking refinement, learning, or artistic or literary culture
Anyway, I can recall staring at that cover for a long time, trying to figure out what this Conan guy's deal was. You have to remember, this was long before AHnold made Conan a household word. He looked a little like Tarzan with the dark hair and the lack of trousers. I liked the ax and he was fighting a monster like something out of a Sinbad movie. Marvel or not, this guy had possibilities. The scantily clad babe on the cover probably didn't hurt any either, as I was closing fast on puberty. So I read that issue and things have never been the same since. As you can tell from some of the posts here, I ended up being really taken with Conan. I sought out the books the comics were based on and through them discovered the genre of Sword & Sorcery and other writers like Fritz Lieber, Lin Carter, Michael Moorcock, and so many others.
Oh and it turned out I liked the rest of the Marvel comics too, but that's a story for another time.
Sunday, December 03, 2006
The third book for the weekend turned out to be a re-read of Robert B. Parker's Small Vices, featuring his private eye hero Spenser. I hadn't read this one since it originally came out in 1997, so I figured I'd have forgotten enough of the plot details for a revisiting. Not that plot really matters in a Spenser novel. Parker, like the writer his work most resembles, Raymond Chandler, never cares much about plot. The Spenser 'mysteries' are closer to Westerns than whodunits. Usually some bad but powerful people are somehow threatening some nice but powerless people and Spenser has to step in to save the day.
No, one reads parker for the dialog and for the minimalist prose. Parker was a college professor of literature and he writes very much in the Hemingway mode. His novels are fast paced and full of action and witty banter, but there's always an undercurrent of literary style. The man can write.
I started reading Parker when I was eighteen and have bought all of his Spenser novels ever since. Part of that is my fondness for the private eye genre, but a larger part I think is that Parker seems to be obsessed with the same things that obsess me. Loyalty, friendship, and personal honor. Keeping your word and doing what has to be done no mater what the cost. See? I told you Spenser was like a cowboy. Parker has even written a couple of Westerns, Gunman's Rhapsody and Appaloosa. Appaloosa is an amazing book, one of my favorites of Parker's. I've already read it a couple of times though so I probably won't be back to it any time soon.
Now that I think of it, cowboys, private eyes, and Conan style barbarians all have something in common. All three hero types are individualists. They are the ultimate 'self-determining' men. They are going to do what they are going to do and damn the consequences.
Huh. It seems that my heroes have always been cowboys, even when they're detectives or barbarians.
Saturday, December 02, 2006
Been a big reading weekend so far. Started with a re-read of Novalyn Price's memoir, One Who Walked Alone. Novalyn dated Robert E. Howard, the creator of Conan, in the 1930s. She'd saved her diaries from when she was in her twenties and used them to write the book when she was not quite 70. It's a slow book and reads much like you would think a young girl's diary would read, but it's the longest first hand account of Howard's life. Her friendship with Howard runs right up to three weeks before his suicide. Like most of Howard's friends, she didn't see it coming, though looking back the signs were everywhere.
From there I went to Darkness Weaves with Many Shades, one of Karl Edward Wagner's novels about his anti-hero Kane. Many folks, seeing the Frank Frazetta covers of the Kane paperbacks, assumed he was a red headed Conan knock off. Kane carried a sword and ax and fought monsters but his creation was inspired more by the Gothic novels of the 18th and 19th centuries, particularly Charles Maturin's Melmoth the Wanderer. This is a dark dark book and it does indeed weave with many shades of violence, passion, revenge, and horror. I noted at one point, during a pitched sea battle, my heartbeat had actually picked up a little. Always a sign that a writer has done that improbable bit of magic of actually involving a reader so deeply in his plot that the reader feels what is happening almost as if he or she were there. Bloody impressive. Wagner was another talent who died too soon. He didn't commit suicide as cleanly as REH, but he basically drank himself to death, and knew what he was doing. His friends not only saw it coming, they had to watch.
Not sure what I'll read next. Maybe something light...
Thursday, November 30, 2006
Weather Channel's website says cooler temperatures for the weekend. We'll see.
Monday, November 27, 2006
I contacted Cockrum and we agreed upon a price of $250 bucks. I dutifully sent him a check and he said I'd have the drawing in a couple of months. I'd had good turnaround time on the commissions from Grell and Yeates, so that seemed reasonable.
Four months passed and no drawing. I emailed Cockrum to ask what was up. He assured me that he was just a little behind on commissions and the drawing would be forthcoming. I said fine and went about my business. Another four months went by. I again emailed Cockrum.
Cockrum then told me that he was having some health problems and that he had been hospitalized for several weeks. I told him I could see where that would put him behind, but I did think that he could have contacted me and told me what was wrong. He agreed but again assured me the drawing would be done post haste.
Four more months passed. It had been a year since I had commissioned the artwork and I emailed Cockrum yet again and asked him to return my money if he didn't plan on doing the drawing. This time his email said that he had been in the hospital two more times, but he really thought he could get the drawing done if I would just be patient. I said okay.
A little later I began to hear reports of he seriousness of Cockrum's health problems through the fan press. He apparently really was in pretty bad shape and there was talk of a benefit comic to help pay his medical bills. More info trickled in. Cockrum had become diabetic and his eyesight was failing. I saw a few drawings he had done and I realized that I was never going to see my John Carter drawing and that Cockrum was obviously short of cash.
I sent one more email.
I basically said, don't worry about the drawing and don't worry about the money. You're obviously having a hard time so just consider the cash a gift for a lot of years of good comic books. You won't hear from me again. No hard feelings at all and consider all obligations canceled. He emailed back saying his eyesight was improving and he thought he could still do the drawing. I never wrote back.
Over the next couple of years my friends would rag me about hunting down Dave Cockrum. I'm known to have a pretty bad temper sometimes and a long memory, but oddly enough, I really had forgiven Dave. I thought he could have handled the situation better early on, but I didn't think a stupid drawing mattered much given his situation. Cockrum was a guest at the last two Comic Book conventions I attended. I passed by his table where he was signing comics for X-Men fans and never felt the urge to say anything to him.
Cockrum died two days ago. He left behind a legacy of good work and a lot of friends, family, and fans who loved him. He also proved that I'm capable of forgiving and forgetting. Rest in peace, Dave. No hard feelings at all.
Sunday, November 26, 2006
“How can you eat so much?” I say.
Conan doesn't answer. He merely glowers at me from beneath bushy brows and stuffs an entire pancake into his mouth.
The elderly couple at the table next to us are stealing nervous glances at my dining companion. He is clad in leather kilt and sandals. His broadsword leans against a wall.
Catching my eye, the elderly lady says, “Where is that boy's coat?”
I smile. It's something my grandmother would say when I would breeze in during 30 degree weather in my shirt sleeves. “Where is your coat, son?”
“He's from Cimmeria,” I say. “It's cold there all the time.”
The lady looks dubious but goes back to her breakfast. Conan jams three sausage links into his mouth and says, “You've never been to Cimmeria, have you?”
I shake my head. Conan says, “It's a dark land. The trees are packed so close and the mountains loom so high that sunlight never touches parts of the ground. Somber hills and leaden gray skies. In the winter it snows and in what passes for summer it rains.”
“A hard land,” I say, just to be saying something.
“In my memory I see only the clouds that pile forever on the hills and the dimness of the everlasting woods.”
“Next time I'm bringing Red Sonja to breakfast,” I say. “She's not as depressing as you and she looks a lot better in chain mail.”
“Aye,” Conan says, grinning. “That she does.”
Saturday, November 25, 2006
But, Charles, you say, YOU are a writer so of course you don't like that sort of thing. It would mean everything you write reveals deep hidden secrets. To which I say, Pthhhh.
However, since I do write, let me use something of mine to explain my point. My most recent short story was called The Dead Remember and it was about a guy named Alexander Gordon who fought a bunch of zombies in a world not unlike Robert E. Howard's Hyborian age.
Now, lets see. What did those flesh eating zombies represent? My debts? Um...people at work? Well no. I wrote about zombies because I had just read a Karl Edward Wagner story about zombies and a Joe Lansdale story about zombies, and I thought it might be fun to write about zombies.
Okay, next thing. The zombies were the resurrected remains of tribesman, kind of like native Americans. Now what deeply rooted psychological thing made me write about them? Oh, and they had been killed by the local army who were kind of like the U.S. Military during frontier days. What did that represent? My long held problem with authority figures? My distrust of the government?
Actually I had been watching season three of the old TV series Kung Fu, and one of the episodes was about a massacre of an Indian tribe. I needed zombies and I thought, hey, what if that tribe came back from the dead to seek vengeance on the guys who killed them?
So there you have it. Kung Fu, Karl Edward Wagner, and Joe Lansdale = my story.
But what about the protagonist, Alexander Gordon? Surely that means something. I must have delusions of grandeur since I named the hero after the man who conquered the world. I mean all protagonists are just wish fulfillment version of the their authors, right?
Well okay, you got me on that one.
Actually, I named him after Francis X. Gordon, one of REH's lesser known heroes. One of the Francis Gordon stories is called The Lost Valley of Iskander. Iskander is a corruption of Alexander. Thus Alexander Gordon.
And all you Tolkien experts? Get a frikkin life.
Thursday, November 23, 2006
My grandfather died five years ago and my grandmother, Ma Bess, had to move to an assisted living home. But we kept up the tradition. My mom and my aunt would switch hosting duties and we'd still have the breakfast and trundle my grandmother back and forth to the retirement home.
This year my grandmother, who is 91, was too feeble and ill to leave the home.
The whole lot of us made the trip over there, but the home doesn't really have anywhere all of us could gather so we went in to see my grandmother in shifts. Afterwards we hung out a bit in the parking lot amidst blowing leaves and a slowly climbing sun. Anyway, I'm home now at 9:30. An era has ended this morning. I'm not overly sentimental about family, but it does feel a bit odd to have Thanksgiving mostly over with. I'll go to my brother's later today and hang with him and my nephews. My world has shifted slightly though, from now on.
Wednesday, November 22, 2006
Monday, November 20, 2006
Sunday, November 19, 2006
"We were about to give up and call it a night, when somebody dropped the girl off the bridge."
MacDonald's hero Travis McGee and McGee's buddy Meyer are fishing below a highway bridge in Florida when some thugs toss a girl over the bridge into the bay. She's got a concrete block wired to her ankles but she's still alive. The next several pages are a harrowing scene where McGee goes into the night dark waters and tries to save her. It's a very suspenseful scene and what an opening line.
Saturday, November 18, 2006
Anyway, having escaped the clutter and having decided I would never again allow that much stuff to stack up, I have adopted a new policy at my new dwelling. I will buy no more bookshelves. So if my exisiting shelves get full, then stuff has to go. It's not as hard as it sounds. Once I got rid of so much of my material possessions during the move, I found that it was much easier to let stuff go. Things that I had thought I'd keep forever, I've ended up parting with, and I haven't missed them.
Tonight I filled a copier paper box with paperbacks. That makes three such boxes I've filled over the last six months or so. These will eventually make their way to next years library sale. I've also started looking at some of the books I've collected but no longer read or refer to. Basically, if I haven't touched it since I moved, I probably don't need it. (This goes more for fiction than for my reference books.)
Other than my new more 'Zen' attitude, the other thing that makes it easier to get rid of old books is the Internet. There are so many on-line book sources that there are very few books that I couldn't get again in a couple of days if I decided I really wanted to. Books that I once had to search for by haunting used bookstores, sending out want-lists, and ordering print catalogs, can now be acquired with a few keystrokes. So I don't have to horde hard to find books just on the off chance that I might want to read them again some day.
There are exceptions of course. I have some truly rare books and also some volumes that have sentimental value. I'm not likely to ever get rid of those. But pretty much anything else always stands the danger of being culled.
It is a cold gray morning with a thin line of sunlight just edging the horizon. I reach Wal-Mart without incident. I wander about the store, wishing I'd made a list. As I turn a corner I come face to face with Tarzan of the Apes.
Tarzan is moving in a stalking crouch, his jungle hardened thews rippling beneath his bronze skin. He clutches his father's hunting knife in his right hand. He glares at me for a moment with his iron gray eyes, then straightens up and says, “Sorry, I thought you were Numa, the lion.”
“Um, no. Just doing a little early shopping. Do they get a lot of lions in here?”
“You'd be surprised where Numa stalks his prey.”
There's a slight noise from the next aisle over and Tarzan glides in that direction. I follow, along. A small herd of zebra duck from the cover of the paper products aisle. “Bah,” says Tarzan. “It is only pacco and his brothers.”
“Rak,” I say, getting into the spirit of things.
Tarzan glances over at me. “You speak the language of the great apes?”
Tarzan nods. We stroll for as bit, chatting amiably. I ask about Jane. About Miriam and Korak, and has Tarzan heard from Jason Gridley since he returned from Pellucidar? Tarzan answers most of my questions but then there's a flash of amber fur and a tawny mane over near the frozen food section.
“Kreegah, Numa!” Tarzan shouts, sprinting away,”Tarzan Bundolo!”
This translates roughly to 'Beware, Numa. Tarzan kills.' I'm not even going to try to keep up with the lord of the jungle in his relentless pursuit of Numa the lion, so I find the things I need and head for the parking lot. Starbucks should be open now, I think. Vando. (good)
Friday, November 17, 2006
Had a couple of interesting finds today. Two of Katherine Kurtz's original Deryni series from 1970. I'm not overly interested in the Deryni books, but the early volumes of her long running series were published as part of the Ballantine Adult Fantasy series, which means they have introductions but Lin Carter. I mentioned Carter's book, Imaginary Worlds, in one of my earlier posts. Carter was the Editor of the BAF series in the late sixties/early seventies.
Most of the BAF books were reprints of classic fantasies by authors like Lord Dunsany, William Morris, and James Branch Cabell, but Carter also introduced some new fantasy writers like Kurtz and Joy Chant. Anyway, I was glad to get these books because the BAFs always have nifty covers as well as the editorial material from Lin Carter. Look here for really small (but plentiful) scans. http://phantasma.onza.net/biblio/lists/baf.html
My other find was a reprint of Alfred Hutton's 1901 book on swordplay, The Sword and the Centuries. The book contains first hand accounts of actual combat with edged weapons going back to the thirteenth century with commentary by Hutton, who was himself an expert on fencing. You'd have to know me to know how cool I think this is.
Wednesday, November 15, 2006
My absoute favorite film has remained pretty much the same for a long time though. It is The Maltese Falcon, John Houston's 1941 adaptation of Dashiell Hammet's novel. That's the movie I've watched the most, somewhere in the area of 50 times I'd guess, and I'd watch it again today with no problem at all.
Why? Any number of reasons. I like Hammett. I've read the novel Maltese Falcon many times and the movie script is almost word for word from the novel. I like Humphrey Bogart, probably my favorite classic movie actor. The rest of the cast is amazing. Peter Lorre. Mary Astor. The amazing Sydney Greenstreet. The philosophy expressed by the film, that we live in a random and orderless universe, is pretty much in line with my world view. And, what can I say, I'm attracted to the stark noir atmosphere of the film.
Anyway, that's my favorite movie of all time. The other nine? Well, looking at my shelf of DVDs and seeing what I've watched the most in the last year or two, I'd say top four behind Falcon are Oh Brother Where Art Thou, Lost in Translation, Scent of a Woman, and Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan. After that are the three recent Lord of the Rings films, a couple more Star Treks (Voyage Home and Generations) a bunch of Akira Kurasawa films, Sinbad movies, Errol Flynn swashbucklers, etc. Gets pretty hard to choose. Why do we have favorites anyway? I suppose they are the films that most closely reflect our inner landscapes. They are, as Bogie says at the end of Falcon, "The stuff that dreams are made of."
Monday, November 13, 2006
Sunday, November 12, 2006
Saturday, November 11, 2006
The big centerpiece of the Mesopotamian wing is a 15 foot tall man-headed bull that used to sit outside the throne room of King Sargon of Akkad. Staring at this 40 thousand pound stone statue I had one of those strange moments of connection to the past. Sargon used to see this thing every day, and here I am looking at it a couple of thousand years later.
Something I didn't know though, was that the institute also has an Egyptian Wing. I have done much reading and studying about the Egyptians as well over the years so I was thrilled to get to see the collection of artifacts. As you enter the Egyptian wing you come face to face with a 17 foot tall stone statue of King Tut. Pretty darned impressive.
When I told my pal Chris about these two monoliths the other night at dinner, he said, “If you had been in a Ray Harryhausen movie, the statues would have fought.” Well of course they would. Anyone who has seen The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad, Jason and the Argonauts, The Golden Voyage of Sinbad, or any of the other amazing films made by veteran stop motion animator Ray Harryhausen knows that the statues must eventually fight to the death. Duh.
Immediately my brain begins to create a plot. Beth and I are in the museum seeking the Eye of Osiris, a powerful mystic talisman that was secreted within the one Sarcophagus in the Institute that has never been opened. The Eye is the only thing that can stop the evil Egyptian sorcerer Kasdiel from conquering the world with his army of undead warriors. That'll work.
We break into the Sarcophagus, (leaving a note saying we're sorry and will return the eye) and start to leave the Egyptian wing. Unfortunately the baleful radiation emanating from the Eye of Osiris has animated the statue of King Tut and he is not happy to see us desecrating said sarcophagus. With much creaking and groaning of tortured stone, Tut tears free of his pedestal and begins to lurch across the floor. He is about to deal us a messy death, when with a roar, the man-headed bull, also awakened by the Eye, comes stomping into the Egyptian wing spoiling for a fight.
A pitched battle ensues. Since the Egyptians are the bad guys in this movie, Tut wins, and returns to his initial idea of killing Beth and me. Looking about for any sort of weapon, I think what would Sinbad do? I break the glass on the fire hose that is mounted on one wall and quickly wrap the hose around the lumbering statue's ankles. He topples, and weakened by his tussle with the bull, smashes into many fragments. Beth and I charge out of the museum to face Kasdiel in the thrilling finale.
Wednesday, November 08, 2006
"Where did you get that dragon?" the boy asks. His name is Bailey. He's five.
"Charles drew it for me," my co-worker tells him and points to me. Bailey looks at me. I probably don't look like a guy who can draw dragons.
I say, "Would you like me to draw a dragon for you?"
Vigorous nod. "Can I watch you?"
"Sure, come on over." I snatch up some paper and a pencil. His mom beams as moms do when you do things for their kids. Bailey stands at my elbow as I start to sketch.
"First I draw the eyes," I say.
"Why do you draw the eyes first?"
"So I know how big his head will be."
I begin to draw from the head down to the slope of the neck and chest and Bailey's eyes get wider.
"How are you doing that?!"
"Just drawing that dragon?"
"I don't know. It's just coming out of the pencil."
"He has big teeth. Is he a friendly dragon?"
"Yeah, he's friendly. Here, I'll draw him waving at you."
"Are you going to give him wings?"
"Sure." I start sketching wings.
"He needs wings so he can fly," Bailey says.
"I don't think he'd still be aerodynamically capable of flight."
"Nothing. I'm giving him legs like a Tyrannosaurus."
"Ooooh, I like Tyrannosaurus."
I finish up and scribble a hasty CR at the bottom of the drawing. Bailey gives me a high five and he's off to lunch with his mom and dad, leaping and jumping and waving his drawing around. Unlike my non-aerodynamic dragon, he doesn't need wings to fly.
In many ways these two books are polar opposites of each other. Carter pretty much uses The Lord of the Rings as the B.C/A.D. line for fantasy. Everything that led up to LotR and everything that follows it. Considering that Imaginary Worlds came out in 1973, at the height of the Tolkien craze, that's not too surprising.
Carter, long considered one of the experts in the field of heroic fantasy, lays everything out on a timeline, showing the emergence of the 'invented world' story, which firmly separates the contemporary fantasy novel from myths, legends, fables, and folklore, giving vast amounts of information about the lives and works of William Morris. E.R. Edison, Lord Dunsany, and the other pre-Tolkein fantasy writers.
Other chapters cover fantasy in the pulps with nice sections devoted to Edgar Rice Burroughs, H. Rider Haggard, A. Merit, Talbot Mundy and the like before leaping to the Weird Tales Triumvirate of H.P. Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, and Robert E. Howard. There are chapters on Tolkien's circle, the Inklings, on LotR itself, and then a chapter on the post Howard and Tolkien fantasy writers circa 1973, which is full of Carter's insider knowledge of the publishing industry as it stood then. Basically if you wanted to give someone a good working knowledge of the history of fantasy literature, this would be the book. Why it's never been reprinted is beyond me.
And then there's Wizardry and Wild Romance. Michael Moorcock has long been an iconoclast. His most famous hero, Elric of Melnibone was created to be the exact opposite of Conan and nothing Moorcock writes follows any expected path. He remains an original, seldom covering the same ground twice.
Wizardry is more of a personal essay than a history, though Moorcock touches on some of the same writers as Carter. He explains in his introduction that he plans to talk mostly about the authors he admires rather than attacking the ones he doesn't care for, but when he does decide to go after some writer or other, he brings the full brunt of his not inconsiderable literary knowledge against them. The biggest example of this would be the chapter 'Epic Pooh' where he compares the comforting messages of The Lord of the Rings to A.A. Milne's Winnie the Pooh. It's a pretty savage attack, written originally as an essay in the 1960s and updated for this edition, and it has caused no end of arguments over the years. Thing is, all Moorcock's venom is directed at the work and not the author. He explains that Tolkien was very kind to him when he was a boy and he has no animosity toward the late Oxford Don. He just hates hobbits.
Anyway, Wizardy and Wild Romance is in print and available, and copies of Imaginary Worlds are readily available cheap on Ebay, Abe Books, and other online stores. Check em out.
Saturday, November 04, 2006
So I had lunch with my friend Brian today and he's just back from Key West. I hopped into his truck and asked how things were going and he said, “I dunno, man. Since I got back from my trip I'm just in a bad mood. Restless I guess.”
And I had to laugh, and then we talked about how the world is a big place and how we're not seeing all of it...
I'm going to have to disagree with that. I've read Fortress. In fact I re-read it last night, and it, like the rest of Lord Dunsany's work, is fantasy, bordering on fairy tale. It is not sword & sorcery, no more than the Lord of the Rings, or for that matter, the Wizard of Oz. As odd as it sounds, a story can contain both swords and sorcerers and not be sword & sorcery, just as a story can contain murder and the police and not be a mystery.
Sword & Sorcery, that bastard spawn of horror and historical fiction, tempered with a layer of hard boiled realism, was created by Robert E. Howard. Period. You can point to many examples of proto-Sword & Sorcery from Beowulf to the adjective drenched prose of Clark Ashton Smith, but the sub-genre of S&S was born when REH mixed the historical fiction he loved with the fantastic, dark visions of Weird Tales writers like H.P. Lovecraft. From here came Kull, Conan, Solomon Kane, and all of Howard's other S&S heroes.
Of S&S many people say that, like pornography, they can't define it but they know it when they see it. My personal take is that there is a very limited range of true S&S. The genre was created by Robert E. Howard and expanded upon by a small group of writers. The other pioneers of S&S were Fritz Lieber, who added dark humor and came up with a duo of heroes, C.L. Moore, who created the first female S&S hero, and Michael Moorcock, who flipped the genre by making his protagonist a physical weakling as opposed to a brawny barbarian. Everything else in the genre since is pretty much derived from these writers with the possible exception of Karl Edward Wagner's Kane, who may look like Conan, but who is actually an extremely intelligent and cultured man. (Not to mention he's the biblical Cain. A nice touch.)
The farther one gets from the Howard model, which despite its fantastic trappings, is usually firmly grounded in realism, the more one moves into High Fantasy or Heroic Fantasy. That's elf land where Raymond Fiest, Terry Brooks, Robert Jordon and all the Hobbitoids live. It ain't S&S.
Anyway, I'm not sure what Mr. Tomkins agenda is in trying to attribute the creation of Sword & Sorcery to Lord Dunsany, but he probably should read the book cover blurb on Kull which reads, “Heroic tales of adventure from the FATHER of sword and sorcery.” Damn straight.
Friday, November 03, 2006
I have often thought to write a story explaining what brought these two heroes together, across thousands of years, and what menace they are facing. Of course Tarzan and Conan are both trademarked characters, so anything I wrote using them would be fan fiction at best, but recently I've begun to think of Philip Jose Farmer's Lord of the Trees, which teamed thinly disguised versions of Tarzan and Doc Savage, and it occurs to me that I could create my own jungle lord and barbarian savage. Today I thought of an opening scene. We'll see where that takes me.