Thursday, April 29, 2010

Together Again for the Third Time

I learned last week that Roy Thomas, the original writer of Marvel Comics Conan the Barbarian comic book, is going to write a new Conan series for Dark Horse Comics, the company which currently publishes the adventures of the big Cimmerian. Roy was the man who introduced me to Conan about 1973 and I always enjoyed his work on the character. However the original rumor I heard was that Roy would be REPLACING current scripter Timothy Truman, which I was less happy about because I like Tim's take on Conan too. Don't get me wrong. I was thrilled to hear that Roy would be writing Conan again, but I didn't want Tim out of the picture.
As it turns out, Roy will be writing a 12 issue run that takes place later in Conan's career and Tim Truman will still be working on Conan with regular series artist Tomas Giorello. So now that I know Tim will still be around, I'm free to be unreservedly pleased that Roy Thomas will be back on Conan. Actually, I'd like to see Roy work with Giorello at some point because I've always thought Giorello would have been right at home drawing the old black and white Savage Sword of Conan magazine where Roy did some of his best work on Conan. Giorello's artwork is more traditional than some of the other artists Dark Horse has used on their Conan comics. Very solid drawing.
This will be Thomas's second return to the character. His first run on Conan went right at ten years, then he was away for almost the same length of time, only to return and write the character until Marvel gave up the rights in 1993. Now, 17 years later, he's back yet again. I'm looking forward to seeing how he picks up the reins.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Rumors of Spenser

A few weeks ago, when I blogged about the death of mystery novelist Robert B. Parker, I mentioned that the obit I had read stated that the current book about Parker's private eye Spenser was the last completed one. However I have since learned from another source that that here may be two more books, one a Christmas story, that were completed. a quick check at shows the cover for Painted Ladies: A Spenser Novel, slated for a September 2010 release and a slug for an as yet untitled Xmas Spenser. It wouldn't surprise me since Parker was always several books ahead (which may explain the declining quality of the series) but I still wonder if these are pure Parker or not. I'll be investigating further.

Still Conan After All These Years

Cliff emailed me yesterday to let me know that the third and final volume in the Wandering Star Deluxe Conan series had finally arrived. It was supposed to have been available in 2005, so it's been quite a wait. The reasons are may and various and Jeffrey Shanks, over at The Cimmerian, does a far better job of explaining what happened than I ever could. Check out the link to his excellent article at the bottom of this post.
The big thing is, these books are $200 a pop, and for a long time it looked as if only two of the three would ever be published. Needless to say, I'm very happy not to have purchased two of a three volume set that was never finished.
A lot of collectors were upset that the Wandering Star books were reprinted in far cheaper trade paperbacks by Del Rey. That didn't bother me at all. Quite the opposite in fact. I smile every time I go to the Fantasy section of the bookstore and see Robert E. Howard prominently displayed. I want everyone to be able to purchase the unedited Conan, Solomon Kane, Kull, etc.
No, my only concern was having a very expensive incomplete set and I really had begun to think Wandering Star would never get the third Conan book out, especially since it had already been put out as a Del Rey trade and more especially since so much time had passed. When they announced late last year that the third volume was actually coming out, I was skeptical, and I continued to say that I wouldn't believe it until I actually held the book in my hands. When Cliff emailed yesterday I phoned him and asked. "You've actually touched the book?" He laughed and assured me that he had. I didn't even wait until my usual Wednesday night visit to Cliff's store, Dr. No's, but instead stopped on the way home from work and picked up the book.
When I got home I very carefully removed it from the shrink wrap and flipped through it. Then I compared it to the other two Wandering Star volumes. The new one is every bit as nice as the other two. After that I went and prepared a space on the bookshelf and finally placed Volume Three by it's older brothers. Then, seriously, I let out a big sigh of relief.
If you know how fond I am of the writing of Robert E. Howard in general and of Conan in particular (and if you don't you obviously haven't been paying attention) then you possibly understand why I wanted all of REH's unedited Conan stories in a super nice set. It's not that I wanted them purely as a collector. Before the Del Rey's were available I took these expensive volumes down and read them many times. I don't care a bit that they remain pristine collectibles. I just wanted all of the real Conan in one place. And now I have it. So whatever Wandering Star's issues were, thanks to then for finally coming through. And thanks to Cliff for letting me know the book was here pretty much the second it reached the store.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Reading Report

Gee, been a while since I blogged. What can I say? Things are quiet at the moment. I'll give a quick reading report just to keep everyone in the loop. So what have I read recently? Read James Patterson's seventh Women's Murder Club book, 7th Heaven. A good, solid entry in the series. I still prefer these to Patterson's Alex Cross books. There's usually more of a mystery element among the standard thriller tropes. 7th Heaven has two major plotlines. Detective Lindsay Boxer has a string of unsolved murders, all involving wealthy couples who are bound and then left to burn to death when their homes are torched. This is an "open" mystery in that the reader actually knows who the killers are, though not their motivations. Meanwhile, Attorney Yuki Castellano is trying a high profile murder case that could make or break her career. Subplots abound, mostly concerning the romantic lives of the club members, but these are the two main plotlines. The other two members of the WMC play mostly supporting roles in 7th Heaven.
The WMC books are Big Mac novels. No real nutritional value, but great for a few hours of entertainment. One would be perfect for a plane flight I think. Some of the "surprise plot twists" in 7th heaven are a bit contrived, but for the most part it holds up well to the rest of the series. I'm a couple of books behind as I only read these when I'm in the mood. Last year's The 8th Confession is already in paperback and the new one, The 9th Judgment is due out this month.
Then I re-read Fritz Leiber's Fafhrd and Gray Mouser story The Jewels in the Forest. This was one of Leiber's earliest tales of the two adventurers and it's a lot of fun. The boys have heard rumors of an old stone structure deep in a forest where a fabulous treasure is hidden. The legend of the treasure says that there is no guardian there. No traps. No beasts. No armed men. And yet the treasure has never been taken. Fafhrd and the Mouser fight a band of mercenaries who are also seeking the treasure before stopping at the home of a farmer and his family who have lived their entire lives in the shadow of the strange building without ever entering. Leiber shines in his depiction of the country folk, making for some quiet, funny scenes in the middle of the sword & sorcery action. That sort of thing is what makes Leiber's work stand out among his peers. The man could write.
I also read two history books that I'll review soon and over the weekend began reading or re-reading some of Robert E. Howard's El Borak stories. A couple of nice collections of the El Borak material have recently been published. More about that later as well.

Monday, April 12, 2010

The Eleventh Doctor

I wouldn't exactly say that I went into the first episode of the new season of Doctor Who prepared to dislike the new Doctor, but I had become so fond of David Tennant's portrayal of the Time Lord that I figured the new guy was really going to have to work hard to win me over. Amazingly he probably had me within the first fifteen minutes. I think I can see why the producers of DW picked Matt Smith to follow Tennant. Smith brings the same warmth to the character that his predecessor did. Watching Smith, I felt that his Doctor really cared about the people he was becoming involved with, especially in the scenes with the little girl who would grow up to be his new companion, Amy Pond.
Smith's doctor is also slightly nuts. Tennant was a bit zany, but Smith reminds me more of the Tom Baker Days. It's hard to tell when he's being serious. he often says things that appear not to make any sense, though later you learn there was some method in his madness.
My initial concern, when Smith was announced as Tennant's replacement, was that he was just too young. He's the first actor in his 20s to play the role. But he carries it off no problem. Within minutes I believed that this was the Doctor. I had similar concerns about the Doctor's new companion too. I was a little worried that the same youth centered sensibilities that have taken over so much of movies and TV were going to engulf the venerable series. I really didn't want Tardis 90210.
But Karen Gillian as Amy fits right in with Smith and in the two episodes I've seen so far, it's business as usual in the Tardis. Amy's character has been described as "feisty' and she is that. She seems a good match for the Doctor. She's also remarkably pretty, which doesn't hurt.
Anyway, the first episode, The Eleventh Hour, serves as an excellent introduction to the new Doctor. Stripped of his Tardis and his sonic screwdriver, and given only twenty minutes to save the Earth from destruction, he still manages to come through, basically saving the world with a borrowed laptop and a cell phone. Not bad for his first time out. The second episode, The Beast Below, gives us a chance to see the Doctor/Amy team in action and this time it's Amy's turn to shine. (I doubt that the Doctor really would have missed the clues Amy picks up on, especially given some Sherlock Holmes like deductions he makes earlier in the episode, but that's a small quibble.)
The series has already run for two weeks in the UK and premieres this Saturday, the 17th, on BBC America. Give it a go. I'm expecting big things from this new Doctor.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Monday, April 05, 2010

Cat Stuff

Back when my two cats Bruce and Amelia belonged to my friend Trish, she generally didn't feed them people food. I've kept that up for the most part, though I do give them tuna once a week and they can have bits of any turkey or chicken I'm having, but I only give it to them in their own dish in the kitchen. I don't feed them scraps as I'm eating so they won't bother me at meal time. Mostly this works, though Bruce will still try and mooch something now and again.
So I was a bit surprised when the normally reserved Amelia hopped up on my desk yesterday morning when I was eating a chocolate chip muffin and began meowing. Now she's done this before when I was eating something I knew she wouldn't like, such as brown rice or beans and of course if I offered her a bite she would sniff disdainfully and walk away. I figured this would be the case with the muffin as well, so I broke off a tiny bit and held it out. True to form, Amelia sniffed the muffin bit, but then suddenly snatched it away and devoured it. I then had to fend her off as I finished up the muffin. Cats like muffins. Who'd have thunk it?
On a slightly related topic, the accepted internet noise for cat's eating is nom, as in nom nom nom. Bruce eats very loudly but the sound he makes is more like ronk ronk ronk or unk unk unk.

And...Sherlock Holmes

In Victorian era England a giant octopus pulls a ship down off the British coast. Then a dinosaur shows up in the West End. Obviously the only person who can stop these giant monsters is... Sherlock Holmes. That's what the folks at Asylum would have you believe anyway. Asylum is the maker of numerous 'mockbusters'. You know the type. They see some big studio is making a movie from some public domain work or something else they can copy, and they rush out a quick, cheap knock off. Their Sherlock Holmes was designed to beat the Guy Ritchie film to the punch. Of course most of Asylum's films go straight to video, but still, it must be profitable for them because they keep doing it. (Hey, I bought a copy.)
As it turns out, Sherlock Holmes is actually kind of enjoyable on a B-Movie basis. It has two "name" actor in it, Star Trek Enterprise's Dominic Keating and Torchwood's Gareth David-Lloyd. Lloyd plays a solid and humorous Watson to Ben Snyder's Holmes. Snyder has a decent delivery but his voice is rather high and he's far too short to play Doyle's Holmes but he gives it his best shot. The villain is an up to now unknown Holmes sibling ( Keating) named Thorpe, who is seeking vengeance for an injury that left him crippled. Thorpe looks amazingly like Gary Oldman.
Anyway, Thorpe's plan hinges on the use of robot creatures of amazing complexity. One has to think that his best vengeance would have been becoming fabulously wealthy with his inventions, but that's not the way criminal masterminds think, so instead he builds a robot dinosaur, a robot octopus, a flying, firebreathing, robot dragon, and a mechanical woman with a bomb hidden inside. In many ways the movie is more like an extended episode of the Wild Wild West than a Sherlock Holme's film.
The special effects are TV movie quality, the sort of thing you see on the SF channel. (The shots with the dragon are the best.) However the acting isn't bad and the movie was shot in Wales and makes good use of the countryside and the old Victorian era buildings, giving it a better look to it then most of the Asylum films. With a slightly higher budget this one might even have gotten a theatrical release in smaller theaters.
There are a couple of amusing bloopers that made it to screen. (I doubt Asylum shoots too many takes.) In one scene you can see the corner of a modern traffic sign on one of the old buildings, and in another an electric dome light is clearly visible on another building.
Anyway, I had a good time in a 'so bad it's fun' way with this version of Sherlock Holmes.

Friday, April 02, 2010

Sherlock Holmes

Well I finally got around to watching Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes film. Overall I enjoyed it, which will probably disappoint a few folks who were hoping I'd hate it. There were one or two, who, knowing what a huge fan of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle I am, seemed to be waiting in gleeful anticipation for me to see the film and be really put out. Sorry folks.
For all the talk of reinvention it's not really that different from Doyle. The character is basically the same. Yeah he knows wushu and kali-escrima, but Doyle's Holmes did know ju jitsu (misnamed as baritsu in the text) and was an accomplished boxer, fencer and single stick fighter. Yeah he shows a bit more emotion that the early Sherlock Holmes, but Doyle also considerably humanized his thinking machine as the series progressed.
But he still makes the lightning quick deductions and catches seemingly trivial bits of information that everyone else misses. The film did a good job of showing us how Holmes sees the world and there's an effective little scene in a restaurant where we see how this very talent can make Holmes' life difficult. He can't always turn his talents off so you get sensory overload as a threat to the world's most observant man. An interesting take.
Probably his obvious interest in Irene Adler is the biggest divergence from Doyle as Watson plainly states that Holmes had no tender feelings for Irene in a Scandal in Bohemia, but countless (and I do mean countless) Holmes pastiches over the years have portrayed 'The Woman' as the great love of Holmes' life, so that's not too surprising.
The plot is so so, being mostly a bunch of slapped together satanic cult trappings overlaying an overly complicated villainous plan. The villain appears to be based on noted black magic aficionado Aleister Crowley. I do sometimes wonder why screen writers seem to want to pit the ever rational Holmes against seemingly supernatural menaces. 1985's Young Sherlock Holmes also had a bunch of cult related nefarious doings.
Robert Downey Jr.'s performance was suitably Bohemian. Doyle's Holmes was a bit of a eccentric, so I didn't find Downey too far off the mark. Jeremy Brett was certainly fond of showing Holmes' anti-social nature and his quirky personality. Jude Law was a stalwart Watson, again closer to Doyle's character than Nigel Bruce or any of the other 'bumbling' Watson's.
This is an action movie first and foremost but the writers and director throw some bones to Sherlockians. There's quite a bit of actual Conan Doyle dialogue in the movie and nice bits like the use of a steam launch on the Thames. They remembered that Watson kept a bull dog and that he married Mary Morsten. (Though there's no reference to The Sign of Four. Apparently in the alternate take on Holmes that case hasn't taken place.)
I was glad to see that Professor Moriarty wasn't the villain in this one, though he does make and appearance. I get tired of people always trotting out the professor for every Holmes pastiche.
Anyway, I had fun with the film. It ain't Doyle, but overall it ain't bad.