Monday, September 29, 2008

The Temple of Abomination

Since Halloween approaches, I started the weekend off reading ghost and horror stories. I read several by M.R. James, then finished up the last of the Carcosa Hugh B. Cave volume. Once I was done with those I decided to re-read one of Robert E. Howard's non-Conan stories that I hadn't read in several years.
The Temple of Abomination is a not quite complete story about Cormac Mac Art, a Gaelic adventurer who traveled with a group of Norsemen in the early fifth century. The Cormac series consists of two completed stories and two fragments. Obviously this isn't one of REH's major series. Of the four stories, only The Temple of Abomination contains any outright fantasy or horror elements. The other stories are pure historical adventures. I suspect, since Howard's primary market early on was Weird Tales that REH was injecting some supernatural goings on into Cormac's adventures with the hopes of selling a story to Farnsworth Wright at WT. It wouldn't be the first time that Howard had grafted a weird menace onto one of his historical adventures.
The story opens with Cormac, his Viking pal Wulfhere, and Wulfhere's crew working their way through a heavily wooded area in Briton on their way to battle Cerdic the Saxon. In the deep forest they discover an old stone temple. Initially they mistake the place for a Druidic temple or possibly a leftover from Roman occupation, but they quickly learn that the temple is dedicated to a far older and darker religion. Soon the adventurers are up to their breastplates in Lovecraftian horror. Of course the answer to that is bloody sword work and Cormac rises to the occasion as readily as Conan, Kull, or Solomon Kane.
I referred to Temple of the Abomination as a not quite complete story. Unlike many of Howard's fragments, which are just a few pages long, Temple seems to only be missing a couple of pages at the end. In fact an existing outline of the story shows that a few paragraphs probably would have wrapped things up nicely. Makes me wonder why Howard abandoned this one. Then again, I once wrote 31 pages of what would have been a 32 page story so, as a writer I shouldn't really be that surprised. As a reader I'm disappointed that the story isn't quite finished.
Still to return to our Halloween theme, Temple has a lot of creepy atmosphere to it. That's what I remembered about it and why I looked it up. Howard had a way with horror, something that's often overlooked because of the popularity of his more action oriented work. But horror is at the root of many of his sword & sorcery stories, particularly those about Solomon Kane. This October, Del Rey books is releasing a trade paperback of Howard's horror fiction. This will include such chillers as Worms of the Earth and The Cairn of the Headland, as well as REH's classic horror tale, Pigeons From Hell. Unfortunately they aren't releasing the book until Oct. 28th, so if you want some Halloween reading, you'll have to act quickly.
I doubt they'll include The Temple of Abomination, since it is a fragment. If you want to track that one down you'll have to find some old paperback collections of Robert E. Howard. The Baen Cormac Mac Art volume contains the story and the outline, plus the other existing Cormac stories. Worth looking for.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Out of Gas

If you've been following the news you may be aware that, supposedly due to Hurricane Ike, we have a gasoline shortage in the Atlanta Metro Area, unless you ask our governor who seems to think everything is fine. Sonny, old pal, it's not fine. Some gas stations have been out of gas for over a week and the few that have managed to get gas usually run out of fuel within a couple of hours of the delivery. Long lines and short tempers have been the norm at gas stations all week.
As of Wednesday night, the area I live in was completely dry. A circuit of ten gas stations Produced not a drop of gas. As of Thursday morning I had enough gas left to get to work and get home and that was it. Fortunately I go to work very early and a couple of trucks made deliveries overnight so I was able to find a gas station that actually had gas on my way in. This was at 5:30 in the morning. By 10:00 am that station was also out of gas.
Theoretically there are some plans finally in the works from state and local governments to get some more gas into the metro area. I've got enough to make it to the middle of next week if I stay home all weekend. Hopefully things will have improved by Monday. In the meantime I'll keep an eye out for any other late night deliveries.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Wrath of Kharrn

Now that I've reached level 50 with my Lord of the Rings online character Kharrn, I've been working on getting better skills and weapons and stuff for him. Nav, one of the members of my Kinship, The Windriders of Rohan, has been of invaluable help, using his crafting skills to make me some armor and weapons in the past. Now he's given me a shining steel mace to match the shining steel ax I bought. Shining steel weapons are top of the line and yes, they really do shine. You can kind of see it in the picture I've included. Anyway, Nav made the mace and he named it Kharrn's Wrath which I thought was really clever. If anyone clicks on it to inspect it in the game they see the name. One girl PMed me with Khaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaarrn! Heh.

I'm guilty of Star Trek humor in LotR as well. The Hunter class has the ability to teleport other characters to different locations and whenever I accept a 'port' from a hunter, I always say "One to beam up." which elicits groans from all the members of my party.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Shatner Up Till Now

I've just finished William Shatner's autobiography 'Up Till Now' and I really enjoyed it. Having already read Shatner's two books on his days as Captain James T. Kirk, Star Trek Memories and Star Trek Movie Memories, I didn't figure I'd learn much more about Star Trek and I was correct. All the stories Shatner tells in the new book are the same ones I've heard before. Good thing is, they are consistent with what he's said about the series before.
Instead I got lots of info about Shatner's early life and about his later TV shows, the short lived The Barbary Coast, the cop show T.J. Hooker, and his current stint as Denny Crane on Boston Legal. Plus lots and lots of stories about every aspect of Shatner's life.
One thing I'll say about the book is Shatner isn't afraid of making himself look bad. He blames the failure of his first two marriages entirely upon himself. He doesn't gloss over the fact that most of the actors on the original Star Trek series hated him. He tells quite a few stories that frankly make him look bad. Some of these things he apologizes for and others he just shrugs and says, "That's how I was back then." It's a pretty gutsy bio all things considered. The chapter that deals with the unfortunate death of his third wife is pretty raw, and I think Shatner still blames himself to some degree for not being at home when his alcoholic wife accidentally drowned in their pool. Sobering stuff.
But for the most part, Up Till Now is a fun book with a lot of funny stories and a lot of inside information on the entertainment world. The 77 year old Shatner has been around all the blocks in Hollywood and come back to tell the tales. And he's still determined to explore strange new worlds and have new adventures even as he approaches his eighth decade of life. I get the feeling that he really does look at every day as a chance to live his life to its fullest. Not a bad lesson.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Blood and Swash

AAAAAR, maties! It's again time for International Talk Like a Pirate Day, so shiver your timbers, buckle your swashes, hoist your mainsales and swab your decks you scurvy bunch of sea dogs. And be sure to say ARRRR! as many times as you can get away with it.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Bridge Work

A decade or so ago, when I was fighting in a karate tournament, a guy hit me in the mouth with his elbow, which was an illegal move in that sort of tournament. I responded by kicking him in the stomach and then knocking him cold, which was also illegal but seemed like a reasonable response at the time. We were both disqualified. I remember feeling a sort of pop when I got hit, but what I didn't know was that the shot had cracked one of my upper teeth under the gum line. Not sure how my dentist missed it next time I was X-rayed but there ya go. Anyway, a couple of years later the tooth broke because decay had gotten into the crack. I never felt any pain and my next dentist theorized that the nerves had calcified, and therefore it never hurt.
Anyway, I ended up getting a permanent bridge in that spot almost nine years ago. Today my current dentist told me that I needed to have the bridge replaced because it has shifted slightly in my jaw and could lead to problems down the road. I like my dentist and respect his professional opinion so I set up the appointment to get started next week. My dental insurance at work is so-so and will only cover half the cost, so it will still set me back about a grand. Couple of years back that would have been a problem, but having been debt free for over a year now, I have the cash, so no big deal. Obviously I would have liked to have spent it on something more entertaining, but hey, welcome to the real world. Still wish I could find the guy who elbowed me though. I figure he owes me some money...

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Incubus Dreams

Had another of my famous nightmares last night. In this one I was working for some television show that investigated supposed supernatural incidents. For this segment a camera man and I were visiting an old house long reputed to be haunted. The hauntings centered on one upstairs bedroom where some fairly horrible deaths had occurred over the years. I of course elected to sleep in this bedroom.
During the night I felt something moving at the edge of the bed and then the covers being tugged as if something were climbing onto the bed. A moment later a heavy something landed on my back. Whatever the thing was, it had claws because I could feel the sharp tips as the thing's hands or paws slid up my shoulder blades. (And no, Bruce the cat isn't staying with me just now.) Then I felt hot fetid breath at the back of my neck and something began whispering to me with its mouth close to my ear. I can't recall what it was saying exactly but the gist was that this was some sort of demonic creature and it wanted to tear me apart, eat my entrails, and drag my soul back to the howling void it had crawled out of. Fortunately at that point someone started knocking on my door and the thing fled.
The dream gets a bit jumbled after that, as dreams do. I remember we were looking around the house for secret passages since the creature seemed to be solid. It wasn't a ghost. Later we were back at our motel, deciding that sleeping in the house again probably wasn't a good idea. (Proving that even in dreams I'm smarter than the protagonists of most horror movies.)
Unfortunately I learned that the thing had followed us to the motel when it dropped onto my chest in the middle of the night. It was too dark in the room to see it but again I felt the thing's claws. This time though, I was apparently feeling more in my action hero mode. I reached to the edge of the bed and gathered the cover sheet in my fingers. Then I threw the sheet over the creature and scooted myself out from under it. The monster rolled off one side of the bed and me off the other.
The struggle had awakened the camera man in the other bed and he turned on the lights. We ran to the opposite site of my bed just in time to see the demon writhing around and tearing its way through the sheet. As H.P. Lovecraft used to say, it was so horrible I can't really describe it. Hats off to my vivid imagination. All that thing wanted was to get out of the entangling sheet and get to me.
Now a couple of interesting things about this nightmare. The original definition of the term nightmare "morbid oppression during sleep, resembling the pressure of weight upon the breast" relates to incubi or demons thought to sit on the chests of sleepers, smothering them. (This is the basis for the painting The Nightmare which I've used before at the blog but will attach to this post as well when I find it.) In Southern folklore, the incubi is replaced by a witch known as the "old hag" who similarly sits upon the chests of sleepers. So my dream has aspects of a classic dream structure. Mine was simply better plotted than most. Hey, I'm a writer. Old Hag dreams are sometimes thought to be caused by sleeping face down in a pillow and thereby not getting sufficient oxygen. These types of dreams are also often associated with high fevers and illness. I've had a few fever dreams myself so I can vouch for that.
The other thing I noted upon waking was a similarity between the second part of my dream and the 1907 gothic short story What Was It? by Fitz-James O'Brien, which concerns a man attacked by an invisible creature which drops onto his chest in the middle of the night when he is staying at a strange old house. Definitely worth reading if you're not familiar with it. It's available on-line at a couple of different websites. Now I'm wondering if O'Brien might have had an incubus dream or two himself.
Anyway, I'd like to say I came up with some clever way of defeating the demon, but what really happened was I woke up suddenly a few seconds after getting a good look at the thing. Took me a loooong time to get back to sleep too. Stupid subconscious. Oh well. Maybe I'll get a story out of it.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Dorkness Rising

Back in 2003 I picked up a copy of an Independent film called The Gamers. I was attracted to it because it explored that area I'm so fascinated by, the place where fiction overlaps with reality. The Gamers followed the adventures of a group of geeks playing a game that while not specifically named, was obviously Dungeons and Dragons. The clever bit was that the game was shown both in the real world and in the world of the game, so you get to see the players as their characters. The film was very low budget and I mean very, and yet it had a certain charm to it. I've watched it several times over the last few years.
Last week I picked up a copy of the sequel, The Gamers II: Dorkness Rising. I won't say that the second one is better than the original but it's certainly as good, and it has somewhat higher production values and a better script. It's much more like a real movie and less like something put together by some bright college students.
This movie has a completely different group of gamers (though one of the actors from the original group is back) going through a new adventure and this time the filmmakers had the cooperation of Wizards of the Coast, the company that owns Dungeons and Dragons, so in this movie the game is shown clearly to be D&D. The plot basically concerns a young man named Kevin Lodge who wants to write a Gaming Module, and is attempting to test it out on his regular gaming group. He wants to finish the adventure before writing the module, but the group can't seem to get all the way to the end without getting killed. Plus, the members of his group are a bunch of hardcore power gamers who keep taking the adventure off course.
Desperate to finish the game, Lodge asks the group to try and find some new players, but unfortunately his group has a reputation and no one will join. One of the members finally convinces an ex-girlfriend to join the game which makes for some interesting results.
There are a lot of in-jokes in this movie and I probably only got about 80% of them. For others you'd have to be a gamer yourself and my experience with table top role-playing games is limited to one very disappointing game of Dungeons and Dragons several years ago. However I do play on-line games and I have a lot of friends who are true gamers, so my working knowledge of the gaming sub culture is pretty good. There are also a couple of in-jokes that you'll only get if you saw the original Gamers. Oh, and in one scene one of the characters wears an X-Crawl t-shirt. X-Crawl is an RPG created by my buddy Brett, and I did some artwork for the original source book, so that was kind of cool.
Anyway, I really enjoyed Gamers II and I'm sure I'll be watching it again. You can check out the trailer at:

Thursday, September 11, 2008

A Collection is Born

I collect things. Mostly books, but also comic books, DVDS, magazines, the occasional toy or statue. Among these collections would be books by and about Robert E. Howard, Michael Moorcock, Clark Ashton Smith, H.P. Lovecraft, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and Edgar Rice Burroughs. Then there's my collection of obscure sword & sorcery novels and anthologies, my collection of Sherlock Holmes pastiches, and perhaps my most in-depth collection, the works of Lin Carter.
Thing is, none of these things started out to be collections. What usually happened was I would read one book by an author and be sufficiently interested to track down some more of his or her work, then eventually I'd end up with almost everything the writer had written. Being a completist kind of personality, once I realized I had most of what someone had written I would end up wanting to have everything they had written and there ya go. Collection. This has also happened with various comics or magazines. Witness last year's quest for a complete run of Savage Sword of Conan. There have been similar quests for full runs of such comics as Korak: Son of Tarzan, Dagar the Invincible, and the original Claw the Unconquered.
Last night I remarked to Cliff that this is about to happen with the Ballantine Adult Fantasy series, BAF for short. I've talked about the BAF series before. These were a group of books published in the late 1960s/early 1970s and were reprints of old fantasy novels that preceded the Lord of the Rings. The series was designed to feed the sudden demand for epic fiction created by the publication of Professor Tolkien's massive work. I know it's hard to believe when you see the glut of Tolkien clone books on the shelves, but back in the 70s, you weren't able to find much fiction that resembled the LotR.
Enter Ballantine books, who hired the aforementioned Lin Carter to gather and edit a collection of fantasy novels, some culled from the past and others written by current authors. Carter, a long time fan and scholar of the genre went to work with relish, digging up such fantasy classics as The Well at World's End, The Worm Ouroboros, Vathek, The Night Land, The King of Elfland's Daughter, Lilith, and many many others. The series ran from 1969 until 1974 and there were 65 books published in the "official" run of the series. I say official because there were several books published earlier by Ballantine that actually led to the creation of the BAF series. Some were reprinted later with the BAF unicorn colophon added, so they're sort of second cousins to the BAF.
My interest in the series evolved gradually. Though all the books contain introductions and sometimes notes and afterwards by my boy Lin, my initial interest was only in the books that contained fiction or long essays by Carter. Carter usually included one of his own stories in collections like Golden Cities Far, New World's for Old, The Young Magicians and others. He wrote a history of fantasy called Imaginary Worlds, and volumes of literary criticism about Tolkien and Lovecraft. I sought all of these out for my Carter collection. Any other BAF books I happened across in used bookstores I would buy because of the Carter connection, but I wasn't actively seeking a full collection because frankly, I knew I'd never read some of the books.
However as time went by some of my other interests began to crossover with the BAF line. My study of the Pre-Raphaelites caused me to seek out the novels of William Morris and it was natural that I would pick up the BAF volumes. My growing interest in authors like Lord Dunsany and Clark Ashton Smith, whose works had also been published by the BAF added more books to the group. When my interest in Vikings made me decide that I wanted The Broken Sword and Hrolf Kraki's Saga by Poul Anderson, of course I sought out the editions with introductions by Lin. And so the stack of books grew.
Last night I ended up with two of the BAF volumes of Lord Dunsany stories more or less by accident. They came with a batch of books I'd bought off Ebay. Looking at the two volumes I realized that somewhere along the way I had crossed the halfway mark in my acquisition of the BAF books. I have a collection, and the collector's mind being what it is, my thoughts are turning to getting copies of the rest of the series. I mean they all have introductions by Lin Carter, so I should add them for no other reason than that, right? And um... they have some nifty covers...and uh..
Oh heck. I just want to own them all. The hunt goes on.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Fictional Friends

It occurred to me, while reading Odd Hours, that Dean Koontz's character Odd Thomas had joined the ranks of fictional folk that I like to hang out with. It's funny how over years of reading, some characters have become almost like friends. You spend enough time with someone I suppose, even a fictional someone, and you start to feel as if you know them.
Just like real life, some are closer than others. Tarzan is practically a step brother. Conan more of a second cousin. Sherlock Holmes, a favorite uncle. Some I was once closer to than I am now. Doc Savage, Travis McGee. Lew Archer.
Over the years I have picked up quite a few other fictional friends who reside now in the labyrinthian corners of my brain. Whenever I return to their adventures or read a new one, it's like catching up with an old friend. Many are private eyes. Phillip Marlowe. Spenser. Mike Hammer. others are barbarians or sword and sorcery heroes. Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser. Elric. Solomon Kane. Thongor. Kull.
I find the ones that I discovered in childhood feel the most real to me. Tarzan. John Carter. Doc. Conan. Perhaps that's because I met them when my imagination was at its height and I could really believe in them. Anyway, it's always funny when I realize that someone new has made it into the club. David Gemmell's Druss. Bob Salvatore's Drizzt. Manly Wade Wellman's Kardios and John the Balladeer. And most recently Odd Thomas and Repairman Jack. The membership requirements have gotten tougher over the years, but it's nice to know that I can still make new friends.

Welcome to the Jungle

Won an Ebay bid last night for a complete set of Tarzan paperbacks. My originals, which were given to me by my mother and which are older than I am, have begun to show their age and I'm afraid that too many more re-readings will lead to broken spines and loose pages. The books have sentimental value and I don't want them to fall apart, but since I like to re-read the Tarzan stories every few years, I figured I'd better get some new reading copies. Sets of the books on Ebay tend to bring high prices. This is understandable since I rarely see the Tarzan paperbacks in used bookstores anymore and acquiring them individually would be time consuming and expensive.
I had been watching several sets for the last few weeks. They had usually bid up higher than I was willing to pay fairly quickly. The sets with covers by Neal Adams in particular tend to get up to a couple of hundred bucks. Fortunately all I wanted was a set in good shape for reading, regardless of covers. Ended up with a slightly mismatched set. 19 of the 24 volumes are from the 1970s edition with white covers. The other five are from other editions. All appear to be in good shape though, so they should last through repeated re-readings. Knowing me, I'll probably hunt down the matching covers for the other five just so all 24 match. I'm a collector. We do stuff like that. I got the books at a surprisingly low cost, though I was a little concerned that another buyer was going to outbid me. But he gave up before he reached my maximum bid.

Cat Dreams

The last couple of nights I've been dreaming about cats. I do that a lot. When I'm feeling philosophical I sometimes think that in my own personal dream symbolism that cats represent happiness. Cat dreams are always good dreams. These dreams aren't always about real cats I've known. In fact usually they are nameless strangers. I suspect that some of them have escaped from Ulther, the city in the Dreamlands of H.P. Lovecraft where no man may harm a cat.
Last night's dream, however, concerned real cats from my childhood. I dreamed I had returned to the house I grew up in. Three of my cats were lazing on the carport. There was Wildfire, the solid black cat that followed my mother everywhere like a dog. There was The Gray Cat, who was one of my favorites but somehow remained without a name his entire life and was simply known as The Gray Cat. And there was Shere Khan, the calico who was the best hunter I ever saw and yet retained her kittenish playfulness for the 14 years we had her. Good cats all. They ran to the screen door when I arrived and I let them into the kitchen, where I gave them some food and sat on the floor among them, listening to them purr and watching them dash about on business known only to cats.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Reading Report

Wasn't a huge reading weekend. I started with a bunch of short stories from the Carcosa Press Hugh B. Cave collection Murgunstrumm and Others. Cave, a prolific author for the pulps tended toward horror and suspense tales and this volume is a good cross section of his work. Cave's work hasn't aged quite as well as that of the other two authors collected by Carcosa, E. Hoffman Price and Manly Wade Wellman. His style 'feels' a little more old fashioned. Still he had a good head for horror and there are some genuinely creepy ideas and moments in his fiction.
While at lunch for my AutoCAD class on Thursday I swung by the Marietta Book Nook and lucked out in finding a copy of Legacies, the second Repairman Jack novel, which is currently out of print. It actually goes back into print next month, but I didn't want to wait that long, so I picked up the used copy. Having read that, I'm now caught up on Jack's adventures and can begin the fourth novel secure in the knowledge that I'm not missing any pertinent information from earlier books.
Then I started Dean Koontz's fourth Odd Thomas book, Odd Hours. Like the other three this one gets off to a very quick start and drags you right along. I didn't get around to it until late Sunday and I had planned to only read a couple of chapters, but of course it pulled me right in and I polished off a quarter of the book before forcing myself to go to bed so I could get up and go to work Monday morning. More about Odd Hours when I finish the novel.
Also read a big chunk of Dangerous Territories, which is Jess Nevins' book of annotations to Alan Moore's third League of Extraordinary Gentlemen graphic novel, the Black Dossier. I wasn't anywhere near as taken with Dossier as I had been with the other two installments of the series, but as Cliff pointed out, the annotations are often more interesting than the comic itself.
As I said, not a big reading weekend, but some quality stuff.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Class Action

I'm back in AutoCad class yesterday and today. It's a more advanced class than my previous one last month, and I've already learned quite a bit of new stuff, closing the one or two gaps I felt I had in my knowledge of the program. It's very thought intensive however, and when I got home yesterday my brain was worn out, so I just sat around and vegged out, which will probably be the case today as well. I'll try to be more entertaining over the weekend...

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

When Cthulhu Calls

I'd been seeing the trailer for a silent film adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft's story The Call of Cthulhu for some time, but I wasn't aware the completed film was actually available. The trailer was pretty nifty, managing to almost look like a real silent film from the 1920s. The other night, Jared mentioned that he'd seen the film at GenCon and that he thought I'd enjoy it. The ever helpful Cliff leaped to the computer and brought up the film on Amazon and I ordered it on the spot. Watched it Sunday night and did indeed enjoy it tremendously.
The folks at HPLHS (the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society) have done a lot on a very small budget. What we have here is a very faithful adaptation of Call of Cthulhu, much more faithful than we're ever likely to get out of Hollywood and for the most part it's amazing what the filmmakers did on such a limited budget. It helps that the film is silent and in black and white. It allowed the filmmakers to integrate miniatures, full size sets, and real backdrops pretty seamlessly. When you watch the extras and see just how cheaply the various sets were made (many literally out of painted cardboard) I think you'll be impressed. The swamp set in particular manages to look like something from one of the later Universal horror films in stark black and white, when in color it just looks goofy. There are also some very cool forced perspective effects right out of the Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.
The weakest effects are probably the (thankfully) limited stop-motion sequences. Those occur near the end of the film and while a couple of them almost work, a couple of others just look silly. But that's a small complaint. For the most part, this amateur production works surprisingly well. It's got a lot of heart, and that goes a long way. Were a Hollywood production to use the structure of this movie with some good special effects we could get a really nice movie, I think. But in the meantime, this is probably the best Lovecraft film yet.