What Rough Beast – James A. Moore and Charles R. Rutledge

 Charles R. Rutledge, horror, James A. Moore, Sword and Sorcery, Weird Westerns, Westerns  Comments Off on What Rough Beast – James A. Moore and Charles R. Rutledge
Feb 122015

WHAT ROUGH BEAST is a new limited edition chapbook from James A. Moore and
Charles R. Rutledge, with art by Keith Minnion, available from White Noise Press.
It combines horror and sword and sorcery with a Western yarn, making for one of
the weirder Weird Westerns you’ll ever read. And it’s top-notch work, as well.

The protagonist is Tom Morton, a deputy whose wife is on a stagecoach lost in a

Nov 122014

A week ago I had a feeling I’d like to read something that wasn’t work-related in any way. As usual, I had some trouble finding something suitable to read even though I have some 5,000 books in my shelves.

However, I picked up a Finnish anthology of old sword and sorcery stories, mainly from Weird Tales, but also from some other pulp mags. The book is called Mustan jumalan suudelma AKA Black God’s Kiss after the story by C. L. Moore in the book. Of the stories I read, Moore’s was the best. It’s full of surreal images and still it moves with a breakneck pace. Very beautiful and thrilling. The story came out first in Weird Tales in 1934.

The other stories I read were Robert E. Howard’s novella-length “The Black Stranger” (1934-1935, unpublished in Howard’s life-time, published in 1953 in abridged form and in 1987 in original form) and Manly Wade Wellman’s “Thunder in the Dawn” (Amazing Stories 1939). Wellman’s story was a bit slow and dated, I didn’t feel the thrill of adventure in this, even though the premise is pretty good: a stone age warrior is really the Hercules of the Greek lore and is the cause of Atlantis sinking in the ocean. Howard’s story pits Conan against some pirates and settlers, in the story everyone deceives one and another. It’s a great read, though I still preferred C. L. Moore.

The striking cover in the book was drawn by Jukka Murtosaari, a friend of mine, who’s studied classical American illustration art for decades now – and it clearly shows. The editor of the book is one Markku Sadelehto, who’s done a good day’s work bringing American pulp fiction to Finnish readers, as he’s edited tons of anthologies for different publishers for over 20 years now. His magnum opus is the edition of the collected stories of H. P. Lovecraft. The sixth and final volume came out just two months ago.

Alas, I didn’t have time to read more of the stories from the book. I’ve read this when it came out some 20 years ago, but don’t remember much of it.

Wednesday Cover: The City Outside The World

 Space Opera, Sword and Sorcery, Wednesday Cover  Comments Off on Wednesday Cover: The City Outside The World
Jul 162014

The City Outside The World is one of Lin Carter’s Mars Novels, a four book cycle of  homages (or pastiches, if you prefer) of Leigh Brackett’s own stories set on the Red Planet. It’s also the only one in the series I don’t yet own. Still, I’m featuring it here because I find this cover painting (by an artist I haven’t identified as yet) quite handsome and evocative of the Interplanetary Romance genre.

Oct 162013

You think I’m productive? Not all the books that were supposed to come out this Fall didn’t work out as planned, but I’m still putting out some seven books. One of these was the Lovecraft novel I mentioned earlier, another one is a sword and sorcery novel that came out roughly the same time Haamu/Ghost came out.

Sword and sorcery novel? Yeah, Viimeinen bjarmialainen/The Last Bjarmian (Bjarmia is a mythical place in the north-east region of Finland) is something I’ve always wanted to do and now here it is. This story came out first in five installments in the Seikkailukertomuksia/Adventure Stories mag I edited and published some years back. I wrote my serial set in ancient Finland almost from a scratch and later on I realized the story resembles westerns a lot: a lone swordsman comes into a small town, finds the town people corrupt, but still has to fight some bad guys that threaten the town from outside. But these bad guys are weird gigantic white monsters, not your basic Injuns or robbers. And they have a mysterious leader, living in a cave no one has ever seen… It’s a bit like Hammett’s Red Harvest coupled with Lovecraft.

The serial went through quite many edits before it hit the print, and I still think there remained lots to be done. The main problem was that the battle scenes resemble each other too much, but last week I figured out how it could’ve been avoided – two weeks after the book had come out. I guess this happens a lot.

There’s also my foreword telling how the story got into print. (I posted the foreword here – in Finnish, of course.) The cover illo is another one by Aapo Kukko, who’s really good at these things. He said he wanted to draw my hero, a guy called Pesäri, with Alain Delon in his mind. And I think he got it exactly right.

Writing these things – this and my collection of Joe Novak private eye stories and the one novel about Joe Novak – is more like a hobby to me, though it takes a considerable amount of time. Writing this kind of stuff is practicing my craft, practicing how to narrate a story, construct the dialogue, keep the story moving. In the gone days of pulp and paperback publishing you could do this for money, now you have to self-publish or rely on your friends’ micropublishing outfits, like in this case. Tuomas Saloranta does a good work with his Kuoriaiskirjat, and I’ve already agreed on doing another book – a small anthology – for him. Here’s hoping someone finds reading Viimeinen bjarmialainen as much fun as I had writing the story!

Vestments of Pestilence – John C. Hocking

 heroic fantasy, John C. Hocking, Sword and Sorcery  Comments Off on Vestments of Pestilence – John C. Hocking
Oct 092013
“Vestments of Pestilence” is a new sword-and-sorcery story by John C. Hocking, author of CONAN AND THE EMERALD LOTUS, and what an absolute joy it is to read (which you can do right here, in fact). This story is part of a series about a character known to the reader only as The Archivist, who is sent by the archive for which he works to investigate and/or recover various artifacts found in the more uncivilized parts of the world where he lives. Accompanying him on these adventures is his bodyguard and companion, the female soldier Lucella.

In this particular yarn, The Archivist and Lucella have returned to civilization only to find themselves immediately drawn into a clash between two members of the royal family, a brother and sister who are bitter rivals and who have tried to kill each other in the recent past. The princess coerces The Archivist and Lucella into helping her get her hands on an artifact from the old Southron civilization that may contain sorcerous power.

Of course, with a street gang, an oily “astrographer”, a sinister tower, and a plague demon in the mix, things don’t really go all that smoothly, and The Archivist and Lucella will need all the brains, cold steel, and courage they can muster to survive.

The plot of this story is traditional sword-and-sorcery, but the prose is pure hardboiled action writing of the best sort, reminiscent of, yes, Robert E. Howard and the fantasy novels written by Ben Haas under the names Richard Meade and Quinn Reade. I’m sure most of you knew I was going there, but dang it, it’s true. Hocking is that good. There are touches of humor as well, and The Archivist and Lucella are very appealing characters. I really hope that eventually Hocking will put together a collection of this and the other stories about this duo, because I’m eager to read them.

For now, if you haven’t already you should head over to the Black Gate websiteand read “Vestments of Pestilence”. If you’re a fan of action-packed heroic fantasy, I guarantee you’ll be entertained. 

Wednesday Covers: Man-Wolf

 Comics, Sword and Sorcery, Wednesday Cover, werewolves  Comments Off on Wednesday Covers: Man-Wolf
Sep 182013
Art by George Perez & Bob McLeod

Marvel’s Man-Wolf was a weird character. Originally John Jameson, astronaut son of Spider-Man foil J. Jonah Jameson, he was briefly known as the super-powered “Jupiter Man,” before discovering a strange, supernatural ruby on the moon, which caused him to transform into a pseudo werewolf. Later, he journeyed to an alien dimension, where he became a sword-wielding barbarian hero fighting wizards and other fantastic menaces.

Art by George Perez & Terry Austin

Anyway, I enjoyed some of those sword & sorcery-styled exploits when the character took over a couple issues of Marvel Premiere in 1978. Here are the covers to those issues, penciled by the great George Perez!

Forgotten Books: Conan and the Emerald Lotus – John C. Hocking

 Forgotten Books, John C. Hocking, Robert E. Howard, Sword and Sorcery  Comments Off on Forgotten Books: Conan and the Emerald Lotus – John C. Hocking
Aug 302013

As a long-time reader and fan of Robert E. Howard’s work, a former member of REHupa, and somebody who has written introductions for several volumes of Howard stories, you might expect me to be a strict purist, somebody who doesn’t like pastiches featuring Howard’s characters and doesn’t think such things should be written. Ah, but that would be rather hypocritical of me, considering how the majority of my career has been spent writing about other people’s characters, including my own Howard pastiche (the El Borak story “Wolves of the Mountain” in CROSS PLAINS UNIVERSE).

So, as with most things, I come down pretty much in the middle on this issue. I have no philosophical objections to pastiches, it’s just that most of the ones I’ve read based on Howard’s work aren’t very good.

For years, though, I’ve been meaning to read John C. Hocking’s novel CONAN AND THE EMERALD LOTUS, which has a pretty favorable reputation even among Howard’s most devoted fans. I believe it was Morgan Holmes who first told me that Hocking’s book is the best of the Conan pastiches published by Tor. I should have gotten around to it long before now, especially since the author comments from time to time on this very blog. All I can say is that I’m sorry for my procrastination on several levels, the most important of which is that it kept me from reading an excellent novel until now.

CONAN AND THE EMERALD LOTUS is a rare thing, a fantasy novel with a strongly realistic tone to it. Sure, there’s plenty of swordplay and sorcery, but the tale revolves around a powerful, highly addictive drug, the sort of plot element you might find in a hardboiled crime novel. It’s been said that Howard merged a hardboiled voice with horror fiction to create sword-and-sorcery, and Hocking understands that even though he doesn’t try to imitate Howard’s style. He spins this yarn in brisk, action-packed prose with occasional touches of creepiness and dark humor. Conan, aligned with one of the sorcerers warring over the potent powder known as the Emerald Lotus, is the most admirable character in the novel, and we know what a bad-ass he is.

At the same time, Hocking gives us the sort of spectacle you expect to find in epic heroic fantasy, especially in scenes like the description of sorcerer Ethram-Fal’s stronghold in the badlands of ancient Stygia. And speaking of badlands, there are hints of the Western here, too, in the battles between Conan and his enemies in rugged terrain that might well be Monument Valley, Utah. All of it leads up to an apocalyptic and very satisfying climax.

As it turns out, CONAN AND THE EMERALD LOTUS is one of the most purely entertaining books I’ve read all year. Hocking knows his stuff and knows how to tell a fine story. I had such a good time with this I’m actually tempted to read some of the other Conan pastiches. But that might not be such a good idea, since I have a pretty strong hunch I’ve already read the best of them.

Witchery: A Duo of Weird Tales – Keith Chapman

 horror, Keith Chapman, Sword and Sorcery  Comments Off on Witchery: A Duo of Weird Tales – Keith Chapman
Aug 142013

I’ve been reading and enjoying Keith Chapman’s Westerns written under the name Chap O’Keefe for several years, but his recent e-book WITCHERY: A DUO OF WEIRD TALES proves that he does a top-notch job with other genres as well. After an interesting introduction that addresses the genesis of these tales, he produces a fine Clark Ashton Smith pastiche set in Smith’s evil-haunted French province Averoigne, “Black Art in Yvones”. A young protagonist, a beautiful blonde, and a sinister femme fetale even give this tale a slight noirish feel. In the second novelette in this collection, Chapman ventures into sword-and-sorcery territory with “Wildblood and the Witch Wife”, featuring a very likable pair of adventurers reminiscent of Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser. It’s set in historical England rather than a fantasy world, but there’s still plenty of sorcery and action.

These are excellent stories and I’m looking forward to more fantasy from Chapman. In the meantime, this duo is well worth the very affordable price.

Adventures On Other Worlds

 Comics, Flash Gordon, Mars, Space Opera, Sword and Sorcery, Tarzan  Comments Off on Adventures On Other Worlds
Jul 102013

My birthday was earlier this week, and I was fortunate to receive a little cash as gifts from various family members. As I usually do around my birthday & Christmas time, I decided to pick up a few graphic novels. This year, my focus was almost entirely on the interplanetary adventure genre.

I ordered two John Carter Of Mars comics collections from Dark Horse Comics. The first of these, Weird Worlds, collects all of the Carter stories published by DC Comics in the early 1970s, while the other volume presents nearly the entire run of Marvel Comics’ series from the latter half of that decade. The Marvel John Carter, Warlord Of Mars book was one of my favorite comic book series of all time (along with their Star Wars series of the same vintage), and I’ve long wanted a square-bound collection of those Barsoomian chronicles for my bookshelf.

The other two trade paperbacks I sprung for were from Dynamite Comics, a company that I’ve had mixed feelings about in the past. Exploiting the public domain status of Burroughs’ early novels, they’ve been publishing their own Carter comics for the past few years. I’ve never read any of their Mars books, but I took a chance on Warriors Of Mars because I was intrigued by the premise. In this book they’ve dusted off Edwin Arnold’s Gullivar Jones (protagonist of Lieut. Gullivar Jones: His Vacation, a Martian adventure novel published more than a decade before Edgar Rice Burroughs A Princess Of Mars), and introduced him to John Carter’s milieu. Scholars have long noted the similarites between Arnold’s novel and Burroughs’ subsequent Martian tales, so I’m intrigued by the idea of seeing the two works/characters combined.

I also picked up the collection of their Flash Gordon: Zeitgeist miniseries, because I’ve read that the Alex Ross-plotted tale incorporates a lot of story elements from the 1980 Flash Gordon movie and the 1979 Filmation animated television feature. I happen to like both of those versions, and I know that Ross is a huge Flash fan, so I’m curious to see how that series turned out.

With luck, most of these books will be here by the weekend! 

Wednesday Cover: The Fantastic Jongor!

 Sword and Sorcery, Tarzan, Wednesday Cover  Comments Off on Wednesday Cover: The Fantastic Jongor!
Apr 242013

Robert Moore Williams’ dinosaur-riding jungle man, Jongor of Lost Land, battles a centaur on this Fantastic Adventures cover. The cover art illustrates a scene from The Return of Jongor, the middle installment of Williams’ pulp trilogy. I’ve got these adventures in paperback (with Frazetta covers), but it was cool to stumble upon this scan during one of my recent Google safaris…