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!
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. 
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!
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.
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.

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! 
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...
Apr 132013
 

Despite my love for the genre, Livia and I haven't made many forays into sword and sorcery. This short story is one of them, and I think it's a pretty good one. We wrote it a while back for an anthology called NEW AMAZONS, which was edited by Margaret Weis. "Look You on Beauty and Death" has got swordplay, an evil wizard, a little humor, and a few plot twists. We've gone through it, revising it and expanding it some from its original version. I hope those of you who like heroic fantasy will check it out. It's only 99 cents for 7,000 words of action.

I have an unpublished fantasy novel sitting in my files, but it's going to take a considerable amount of work before it's ready to see the light of day. I expect to have it available as an e-book, too, sooner or later.
Dec 162012
 
Along with all the Flash Gordon books I've got coming in the mail this month are these two novels of Martian swashbuckling by Otis Adelbert Kline. I've read some of Kline's other "planetary romances" - specifically, several of his Venusian novels - but I've not yet visited his version of the Red Planet.

Paizo Press re-issued these pulp tales a few years back, and I found inexpensive copies of these handsomely designed volumes online. With luck, they'll arrive before the holiday and in good shape. I'm looking forward to adding them to my ever-growing "To Be Read" pile....

For those of my blog readers who aren't all that into space fantasy and are waiting for me to write about hardboiled crime pulp/films again, just be patient. I'm in an outer space state of mind at the moment, but my pop culture passions tend to be cyclical. I'll be back working on the new Femme Noir graphic novel around New Year's and I'm sure I'll be totally immersed in that decidedly more Earthbound genre then!