Friday, 28 December 2012

Locus Online's 2012 All Centuries Poll is Very Confusing

Courtesy of Black Gate, I came across Lotus' latest write-in poll for The Best Fantasy/Science Fiction works of the 20th and 21st centuries. I say works, because although they say it's "a poll for the best novels and short fiction of the 20th and 21st centuries, with five categories in each century: SF novel, fantasy novel, novella, novelette, and short story," I can't find much distinction between novel, novella, novelette or short story - not to mention a few other confusing elements.

Read on for the results.


Tuesday, 25 December 2012

Out of Shadowed Hills

I will tell you of the birth of my son.

In my youth, I was impetuous, wild, full of rage and passion and hate - much like other women of my tribe at that age. But our people did not show it often. Something about our homeland, our dark, sullen, cold realm of mists and shadows, prevents us from it. Our moods are black and melancholic, given to monstrous dreams. Darkness and the night pervaded even our waking thoughts... but not in battle. In those mad exhultations, when our blades flame crimson and agony shoots through our sinews, our spirit finds release. No longer are we moody and dour, but burning with red fury and joy - not at the killing and feasting of swords, but at being alive. It is only when one is at the closest to having their life taken that one truly experiences what life is - distilled, tangible, seething, screaming life. And when that experience comes, we have the strength and will to fight tooth and nail so that we remain alive - such is the one gift breathed into our souls by our grim chief god.


Monday, 24 December 2012

The Expedition: Epilogue

(The following constitutes the legible sections of a moleskin journal recovered at Site R-4 by HMLGEM.  The first page is erratic and scribbled, apparently written following the rest of the journal, and likely the final document written by the deceased, whose remains have been sent to Greenwich for aether-analysis)

Why write a diary that no-one would ever read? The thought occurred to me as I shiver in this bloody, guts-strewn hole in the ice, the heat given off by the discarded entrails of fresh kills providing little respite. I expect I shall have no more than a few hours. I hope they don't find me until then. I can only hope that should His Majesty's League for the Governance of Extraordinary Matters order a second mission, or deign us valuable enough for a rescue. Crozier's gone, our League retinue are gone. I pray that they discover this journal, and discover that this is the Joulutonttu's land. I only pray that they do not remember that their realm once spread farther...

I can hear them now. Must stop.  Must.... sleigh bells... laughing... bells... bells...

(The rest of the page is unreadable. Beside the remains was a map of King William Island, with the following written in blood over the landmass)


Saturday, 15 December 2012

Good Scot, Bad Scot: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Trilogy



I wouldn't give it much thought except that so many of its reviewers have praised it as faithful to the book, or even superior to it, all of which adds insult to injury and is demonstrably wrong.
 - Wayne Hammond, Tolkien Scholar

... I watch the Jackson films with my facial muscles rushing back and forth between Comedy Mask and Tragedy Mask on almost a line-by-line basis...
 - Steve Tompkins, Howard & Tolkien Scholar

It surely hasn't escaped your notice that The Hobbit will be out this month across the world. Most of geekdom is ecstatic, and rightly so, since this is an adaptation of one of the most celebrated fantasy novels in the last hundred years. I had mixed expectations.

Well, I saw it. If you want to know what I thought, click on. Be warned: lots of details about the film, just so you know. Might spoil this adaptation of a 75-year-old book.

Are you sure you want to know what I thought?

You might be surprised.


Friday, 14 December 2012

Darkside #1 Finally Available

So, anyone want to buy my comic, written by Ross Leonard, published by Black Hearted Press?  Well, now you can, if you're lucky enough to live in one of the countries which BHP ships to!


Darkside is an anthology horror comic collecting tales of the macabre, the unexpected, the transmundane, and other such descriptive terms, ranging from stories set in the writers' native Scotland, to faraway lands of ill-defined locality, from modern times to the untold past, and so on and so forth. My story, "Kalina and the Baba Yaga," is a fairytale with a somewhat modern twist on it, as the classic Slavic folk legend has a bit of a Scottish makeover. Of sorts. Kind of. It's difficult to describe exactly what it is, but I loved Ross's idea and couldn't help but throw myself into it.

My experience with Ross has been incredibly gratifying and assuring. Not once did I have reservations or any sort of significant disagreement with the direction, composition or execution of the comic or story, and he seems very satisfied with the results. I'm very lucky to have worked with such a clever, intelligent and erudite individual who gave me the boost I needed simply because he thought I could do it. Since then I've taken on two very cool - and very different - projects that aren't comics, I will definitely work with Ross again in the future, I'm seriously considering a fourth proposition, and I have others in the pipeline. Better not spread my butter over too much bread, though!



You can find some previews of my work on "Kalina and the Baba Yaga" here and here. I'll eventually get round to that report on the comic launch: I'd been holding off because I was afraid of stealing someone else's thunder, but I figure they won't mind. In the meantime, have another Barbearian.

"I am king, state, and law!" he roared, and seizing the wand-like sceptre which lay near, he broke it in two and flung it from him. "This shall be my sceptre!" The toy axe was brandished aloft, splashing the pallid toys with drops of jam. Kub gripped the plastic crown with his left hand and placed has back against the wall. Only that support kept him from falling but in his arms was still the strength of cuddly lions.

"I am either king or cuddler!" he roared, his corded stuffing bulging, his button eyes blazing. "If you like not my kingship - come and take this crown!"

The fluffy left arm held out the crown, the right gripping the menacing axe above it.

"By this axe I rule! This is my scepter! I have struggled and sweated to be the puppet king you wished me to be - to king it your way. Now I use mine own way! If you will not play, you shall obey! Laws that are just shall stand; laws that have outlived their times I shall shatter as I shattered that one! I am king!"

Slowly the pale faced noblebears and frightened teddies knelt, bowing in fear and reverence to the jam-stained giant who tottered above them with his eyes ablaze.

"I am king!"

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Art of Time's Abyss: The Barbearians

Know, O prince, that between the years when the oceans snuggled Tedlantis and the gleaming cities, and the years of the rise of the Cubs of Aryas, there was an Age undreamed of, when shining beardoms lay spread across the world like blue mantles beneath the stars - Bearmedia, Ofur, Bearthunia, Hyperbearea, Zambeara with its dark-furred teddies and towers of spider-haunted mystery, Zingbeara with its chivalry, Pawth that bordered on the pastoral lands of Ted, Gryzzlia with its shadow-guarded tombs, Bearkania whose riders wore steel and silk and gold. But the proudest kingdom of the world was Aclawlonia, reigning supreme in the dreaming west. Hither came Conan the Cimmbearian, black-furred,button-eyed, wooden sword in hand, a thief, a reaver, a slayer, with gigantic melancholies and gigantic mirth, to tread the jewelled thrones of the Earth under his sandalled paws.

A little piece of fun I'd been doing in REHupa was illustrations of Robert E. Howard characters, with a little twist - they're rendered as cuddly little cubbies all stuffed with fluff. And since it's been a while since I updated, I thought it would be nice to share some of them with you all. You can probably guess who this cuddly little guy is, but others might be a bit more difficult to figure out.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

The Reason I Don't Particularly Care For The Asylum


I discussed this company once before, but The Asylum's latest scheme has moved me to briefly comment.

See, this could be just another mockbuster: a shameless, trite, creatively barren facsimile of a blockbuster film which will undoubtedly gain promotion - whether it be through honest confusion by the well-meaning but less knowledgeable, or the kitsch appeal which lures aficionados of camp as a pile of refuse draws clouds of flies* - and thus can be safely savaged or ignored.

But this film aims to be something more... and I feel like such a tremendous hypocrite, because this makes it even worse.


Monday, 12 November 2012

The Blog That Time Forgot, Bite-Sized: SFX Fantasy - The Ultimate Celebration, Fantasy Author Favourites, and Martin vs Tolkien

(I have a post regarding the comic launch in the works, but until then, here's a quick post)

On a whim, I decided to pick this up back in March:


I guess with John Carter and fantasy/science fiction adaptations being on my mind of late, I wondered what they would have to say about the film before the John Carter Is The Biggest Flop Of All Time meme really went into overdrive. Turns out... not a lot.  And frankly, there's not a lot of many great fantasy authors for a supposed Ultimate Celebration.


Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Bite-Sized Blog: Adventure Author News


Preview of "Kalina & the Baba Yaga," which goes on sale from Black Hearted Press on Hallowe'en 2012, with a launch party at 55 Parnie Street, Glasgow at 7pm.

Another round-up of links and musings before Hallowe'en, featuring Conan novelisations, Howard reviews, Howard-inspired poetry, Machen, Lovecraft, Lewis, Saunders and Smith.


Saturday, 27 October 2012

On the plus side...

Well, just as I thought I was out, they drag me back in.  Actually, no, I have no-one to blame but myself for going back to the Conan Movie Blog: after all, this whole thing is my fault.



I'm officially not allowed to complain about The Legend of Conan any more.


Friday, 26 October 2012

OH CROM DAMN IT.

CROM DAMN IT ALL.

Universal Pictures has made a deal for The Legend Of Conan, an action film that will star Arnold Schwarzenegger in one of his signature roles as Robert E. Howard’s mythic barbarian. The deal brings Conan and Schwarzenegger back to Universal, which released the first film that launched Schwarzenegger’s movie career back in 1982. Universal has world rights on the film.

The film will be produced by Fredrik Malmberg and Chris Morgan. Malmberg is CEO of Paradox Entertainment, which holds the rights to Conan. Morgan is the Universal-based writer and producer whose credits include the last four Fast and the Furious films, along with Wanted and 47 Ronin. Morgan has hatched the story and might write the script. The caveat is that the studio wants The Legend of Conan for summer 2014, and Morgan might not be finished writing the seventh Fast and Furious installment by then. If that happens he will be a very active producer, because this is Morgan’s dream project.
Schwarzenegger starred in two Conan films before moving on to Terminator and other blockbusters as he became the world’s biggest action star. Paradox was involved in a 2011 reboot at Millennium Films that starred Jason Momoa and misfired. Paradox’s Malmberg, who moved the project away from Warner Bros after seven years of development with big name filmmakers because the project was moving too slowly, feels that this is the version of the film that he and everybody else always wanted to see on the screen but couldn’t while Schwarzenegger was Governor of California.
“The original ended with Arnold on the throne as a seasoned warrior, and this is the take of the film we will make,” Malmberg told me. “It’s that Nordic Viking mythic guy who has played the role of king, warrior, soldier and mercenary, and who has bedded more women than anyone, nearing the last cycle of his life. He knows he’ll be going to Valhalla, and wants to go out with a good battle.”
There are no plans for Momoa to return. Morgan said that in his mind, The Legend of Conan not only skips over that film, but also the 1984 sequel that Schwarzenegger starred in. The direct link is to the original, which was directed by John Milius from a script that he wrote with Oliver Stone. That was a testosterone-laced exploration of Howard’s mythology of a child sold into slavery who grows into manhood seeking vengeance against the warlord who slaughtered his family and his village.
After the original seminal movie, all that came after looked silly to me,” Morgan said. “Robert E. Howard’s mythology and some great philosophy from Nietzsche to Atilla the Hun was layered in the original film. People say, he didn’t speak for the first 20 minutes of the film, but that was calculated in depicting this man who takes control of life with his own hand. This movie picks up Conan where Arnold is now in his life, and we will be able to use the fact that he has aged in this story. I love the property of Conan so much that I wouldn’t touch it unless we came up with something worthy. We think this is a worthy successor to the original film. Think of this as Conan’s Unforgiven.




Let's go through stages of grief of a Howard fan - not representative of all Howard fans, of course, just one in particular. I'll approximate it through the use of video clips. Then I'll try and give a more level-headed commentary. Emphasis on try. I am so crotchety right now.

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Dark Horse Animates "Queen of the Black Coast"



This series just isn't for me. If it wasn't already clear in comic form, then it's clear as day in animated form, with its extremely young sounding Conan (my 13-year-old cousin has a deeper bass than whoever they got for this, and Conan's supposed to be in his 20s in this story) and somehow hearing Wood's prose and dialogue being spoken aloud makes it even more jarring considering how memorable Howard's actual opening was. And I'll never get over that ludicrous pier hop. For Crom's sake, guys.

On the plus side, if you keep drumming in that this is the equivalent of a Teen Romance version of Conan, it's not that bad. This is to Howard what Clueless was to Jane Austen, Cruel Intentions to Pierre Choderlos de Laclos, or Easy A to Nathaniel Hawthorne, though at least Wood didn't set it in a Hyborian Age High School. For some reason that makes it a lot more palateable to me.

Which, again, cuts into the main thing: this isn't REH's Conan, it's Brian Wood's Conan, just as Conan the Barbarian was John Milius' Conan. Treat it as such, and you'll probably enjoy it more.

Saturday, 13 October 2012

King Conan Rumour Mill of Pain, Part 94

Thank you, one and all, for the veritable avalanche of emails, messages and pokes about this marvellous piece of ''news'' from The Arnold Fans just as I was getting settled in on my holiday on the Mediterranean.

A King Conan book tease!
Ten years ago AintItCoolNews.com helped TheArnoldFans.com to obtain over 14,000 signatures on our "King Conan: Crown of Iron" petition. In 2003 Arnold agreed to star in King Conan as his follow-up film to T3. We all know what happened next. Well, good news, it may be moving forward again. I've uncovered some very interesting news and comments regarding Arnold wanting back in. Not only did Jennings of TAFs speak with several of Arnold's closets friends regarding his very possible return, I also have some interesting comments from the Conan right holders at Paradox. Wait until you read these comments and interviews! Conan's Sandahl Bergman is on the book's cover with me.
Naturally, NOW is the perfect time for Arnold to reprise this role. At the end of the first two films, it shows him roughly at a 65-year-old, grey bearded and looking ballsy. Well, guess what, The Oak has matured!

I've compiled my thoughts on Crown of Iron, Conan the Conqueror, Conan the Sextagenarian or any other Venn-film where Arnold Schwarzenegger and Robert E. Howard's creation intersect, but I've noticed more than a few people who are still optimistic about the idea. After all, since the King Conan script has been going around the internet for so long, that suggests they could make a new story - perhaps one closer to the source material -

Let me stop you right there.


Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Solomon Kane Conflicts with the Original Stories, Part Two

Predictably, everything is draped in late Gilliam, and the action is meticulously humorless — as Howard was himself. The site of a "failed" witch burning, exploded out around the stake and scattered with eyeless corpses, suggests a more interesting medieval pulp tale, but what we get is brisk, atmospheric, and faithful, for better or worse, to Howard's earnest voice.
 - Michael Atkinson, who shows about the usual level of knowledge and accuracy of Howard and his work among film crickets 
Howard's character and theme of a Puritan fighting the supernatural evils of the world gets even grittier, and adds a backstory of Kane seeking redemption after showing him to be just as evil as the horrors he encounters.  This is a welcome addition and does not hamper the character... Liberties were taken with the character, but like The Dark Knight formula: if you remain true to the character, you can change the window dressing.
 - Chris Mancini, a professed fan who considers Solomon Kane accurate to Howard's creation

Based on stories by Robert E. Howard, the creator of Conan the Barbarian, the movie hews very close to the tone, spirit, and style of the source material. Instead of reinventing the character into a pastiche of modern archetypes and tropes like so many big-budget studio tentpoles, the filmmakers set their sights on faithfully translating the character to the screen without involving so much interpretation that the core elements that make him compelling disappear.
 - NO NO NO NO NO NO NO


Since Solomon Kane has been released in the land of his creation after almost three years since its release in other regions, we've been seeing a lot of reviews of the film with fresh eyes. Some are pretty good, which at least give decent reasons for their appraisal of the film, and others are pretty bad, with the same depressing mix of "it takes itself too seriously for a proper fantasy romp" and "doesn't this all remind you of Van Helsing and all these other films that are themselves highly derivative of the source material."

My appreciation for the film has suffered over time, but I still want to say it's a decent film. It's certainly better than a lot of these dark historical fantasy films that've been released of late, and I maintain it's one of the better Sword-and-Sorcery films out there. I'll happily recommend it from that point of view. As a Howard adaptation, though? Ye gods.

Having taken time off following a hospital trip, I took the opportunity to read. In addition to a few new books, I also re-read some old favourites, including the Kane stories, but this time, I read them with the qualification: does this story still make sense if Solomon Kane happened?

(Prepare for spoilers for a 3-year-old film I've been talking about since 2008 that's only playing in a dozen or so theatres, probably because the Weinsteins are the Weinsteins)

Monday, 1 October 2012

What I'm Up To These Days

So I've been making all these vague references to "real life" issues, cryptic allusions to off-internet concerns. Well, I think it's time for me to explain just what I want to do with my life.

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Hyborian Musings: Mappa Mundi, Secunda Pars

As a follow-up to my musings on Hyborian Age Cartography, there's been a veritable avalanche of activity on the subject at the Robert E. Howard Forums, and I simply have to share some of the results.

First of all, earlier this year Trent provided a rather brilliant map based upon Amra's extrapolations. Amra's work ignored the previous official maps of the Hyborian Age, choosing instead to work from Howard's original maps. This "back to basics" approach followed Dale Rippke's paradigm-shifting research and Vincent Darlage's subsequent inferences: nonetheless, Amra's visualisations go in a different direction from those of Rippke and Darlage*:


I have my quibbles with this and Amra's map (viewable here), mostly in regard to the Black Kingdoms and the extent of change in the eastern lands, but it's by far one of the best extrapolations of the southern and eastern lands of the Hyborian Age out there. But ever since then, things have been getting very exciting. I've taken the liberty of uploading some of the images here to save bandwidth and for posterity, because this is really brilliant stuff.

Those of you with slower modems, beware, for these waters are rife with large images!

Friday, 21 September 2012

The Dweller in the Nasal Cavity

Some might say, sure, Al, everyone gets the cold, it's no big deal. And I'd agree. But this... this is no mere cold. It may have all the symptoms of the common virus, and it feels like it. But I know better: I know that there is something which has taken up residence in my head, and it means to torment and despoil my temperament.

Decription? One might as well ask to paint a picture of "irritation," or "subtle," or "mischief." It does not dwell in our paltry human dimensions, but in a veil between worlds, where it can exude its dripping malfeasance without physically occupying room in my brain: that makes it safe from prying foreceps and particularly violent sneezes. All the while wheezing and squeaking with unspeakable glee at the havoc It is causing.

But fear not: even as I type with my nose simultaneously blocked and running, even as a devilishly faint but maddening tickle in my throat conspires to elicit a coughing fit, even as my eyes stare bloodshot at the world, my forces are marshalling. Around the Lymph Node fortresses great armies are gathering. The fabled White Blood Cells, holy orders of warriors dedicated to driving out the heathen bacteria, the heretical toxin, and the insidiuous virues, have summoned the Immune System: the cunning Lymphocytes detect their foe, and the relentless Phagocytes consume and destroy them. Then a host which seems to encompass the membrane: the serried ranks of dendritic cells, the platelet clans, the bacterial foederati, the wild tribes of antibodies. Soon they shall march upwards to the battle, steel in hand, to expel the invaders...

(This extrapolation of the immune system brought to you by 8-year-old Aly, though by no means the only one) In other words, I have a cold, I'll get back to you, I really think someone could make a fun Sword-and-Sorcery story using the immune system as a setting. Educational and fun!

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Art of Time's Abyss

Concept art for a "Sword & Dinosaur"* universe I've been cooking up, with inspiration ranging from Burroughs, Howard, Conan Doyle, Verne, Gurney and more. No sprawling empires, no shining kingdoms, just tribes of barbarian dinosaurs, roaming an ever-changing and dangerous world...

In keeping with the Caspakian theme, welcome to Art of Time's Abyss! Since I've been concentrating on work off the 'net, I want to keep contributing without spreading myself too thin.  So, to remedy that, I'm starting a new series.

Wait, don't go!


Wednesday, 5 September 2012

THIS IS AN ACTUAL PANEL FROM AN OFFICIAL CONAN COMIC


Presented entirely without comment.


EDIT: I'm moved to comment. *MORATORIUM, DEACTIVATE*

Normally the devil's advocate in me would be inclined to go against the grain despite personal opinions. A tiny part of me actually wants to defend Lolos' art: if nothing else, it's certainly different.

However, I must draw the line at defending something simply because it isn't the very worst: something doesn't have to descend below Bennet's "God-Fall" to be subject to criticism. Yes, there have been bad issues in the past with Conan - after decades of top-quality material from Thomas, Smith, Buscema, Alcala, etc. I won't say Thomas was perfect, that he had no off-days, or that Smith's early work was inferior to his later work, or that they didn't have a bumpy start - but they were doing pretty solidly for many years before The Dark Times.

The current Conan run isn't even ten years old. This semi-reboot hasn't even gotten to the ten issue mark.  We've just started one of the great Conan story arcs in "Queen of the Black Coast," which stretched the story to over 40 issues in the Marvel comics, and Conan's barely out of his teens.  We should not be at the stage where this

Posted Image


is a panel of the main Conan comic series.

I'm going to break my moratorium to shock you all: I don't hate Lolos' art. I don't particularly care for it, and I think the constant off-model characters are distracting. But I'm not going to go so far as to say his art is bad, because he clearly has an eye for expression, his scenery is competent, and he has a definite style. That's something.  But at the same time, this is the main Conan the Barbarian line, taking one of the most ambitious and important story arcs in the character's entire life. "Something" isn't enough, this has to knock it out of the park. Lolos isn't doing that: he isn't even playing baseball.

This would be fine for a one-off, a Daughters of Midora or Songs of the Dead. But what happens in these issues affects every Conan comic in the Dark Horse series that follows until the very end.  This series acts as if exists in a vaccuum instead of being part of a long-running series with an established continuity, which means that everything Busiek and Truman did is essentially forgotten.  Wood's Conan never commanded the armies of Khoraja against Thugra Khotan; he never captained the Saucy Wench; he never freed Yogah; he never became friends with Nestor.  And when Wood's off the series, what then? Will another author continue with Wood's alternate-universe Conan, or will we get yet another reboot, only this time the massive potential of "Queen of the Black Coast" has passed by?

Yes, yes, Conan has survived the '90s, he'll survive this. That's not in question: what is in question is the potential of something truly special being wasted. And I do think the potential of "Queen of the Black Coast" is not being exploited by Dark Horse. With all due respect to Wood, the fact that he's explicitly working with such a limited pallet as the original story (possibly mandated by Dark Horse) means that we've had 8 issues of a series about the Black Coast, with three issues that are actually set on the Black Coast: three issues go back to Messantia, which has been covered in the previous arc, and two issues in Cimmeria, which was the setting of two major arcs in the past few years. We still have the current Cimmeria arc to finish before we get to the next arc, which finally takes us back to sea.

*MORATORIUM, REACTIVATE*

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Good Scot/Bad Scot: Conan & The Daughters of Midora

So Conan: Daughters of Midora and Other Stories is out, and much like recent Kull, Solomon Kane and The Road of Kings collections, it's a trade paperback I'm not in a particular hurry to purchase, even if it includes a brand new story exclusive to the book. Zach Davisson has a review up, and it's fair to say he and I have rather divergent viewpoints on some aspects of Howard adaptations and pastiches. Case in point, he loved Conan and the Daughters of Midora, the banner story in this collection, which should tell you something about the quality of the pieces therein.* I... Well, I wrote a rather cynical review of it for the fifth issue of my REHupa 'zine. And since the collection's out, it seems timely to dredge it up again.

I should note that this was written in late 2011, so some of the references are a bit dated: I'm not collecting the main Conan title any more, and Savage Sword of REH has started getting on with Howard adaptations.

Thursday, 30 August 2012

Good Scot/Bad Scot: A Retrospective of McFarlane's Conan, Part One


While I certainly have a great number of Conan-related piece of paraphernalia interned in my household, I'm not what you'd call a Conan collector: I just buy what I like, rather than feel compelled to get the whole set, as it were.  I have many of the reprints of the Marvel comics that adapt the stories, but I didn't see much point in going beyond the Roy Thomas run: likewise, I have thus felt no need to liberate the Conan the Adventurer action figures from whatever warehouse they're currently collecting dust in.

I was going to make an exception for the McFarlane Conans.  You can't exactly call these action figures on account of the preposterous lack of articulation: "action" figures would be something of a misnomer.  Even the Battlechargers had more freedom of movement.  However, one doesn't buy these to enact fun little battles: one buys them to display, like you would a sculpture.  It just happens to have some variety in accessories and trinkets available.  It's a nice idea, all the same.

However, the more I looked at the McFarlanes, the louder Bad Scot started to grumble.

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Bite-Sized Blog: Conan, Theosophy, and Expendables

Iggy Pop dressed as Conan, looking about as depressed as I do looking at this cover to Conan the Barbarian #10.

Well, time for another update: times are interesting indeed, as it turns out I have more time for one project when I was under the impression I had a matter of days, while the other project is still in the womb of creation, waiting to be snatched out. How purposefully vague.

In the meantime, quite a few things have happened in the world of adventure.


Saturday, 11 August 2012

In lieu of new posts, some links

Once again, I apologise for the lack of activity on the blog. Essentially, I've been getting ready for a big project not related to Howard. I've been reticent in posting "real life" issues on the blog, since nobody's interested in that sort of thing, but I figure I might as well let you all know I'm still chugging along.

I don't think I realised just how ambitious "80 Years of Conan" really was. I'm only two stories in, and I'm in over my head: if I'm like this for "The Frost-Giant's Daughter," how on earth could I manage such meaty courses as "Beyond the Black River" or "The Tower of the Elephant," let alone the mighty "Hour of the Dragon"? So I'm going to scale it back a bit after this. Future instalments will probably not see quite as much detail as in the final two parts of TF-GD (if they aren't split further!), but will be more like starting points of discussion. Asking the questions without necessarily answering them, if you will. I'll endeavour to make them worthwhile reading, all the same. In the meantime, I offer a few links of interest.


First, I'll give some props to my literary colleague Ross Leonard, whose comic Maximum Alan (the grand saga of Alan Moore battling legions of his alternate universe counterparts, of course) was illustrated by my artistic colleague Brian Rankin. They were barely beaten out by another acquaintance's book, Gordon McLean's No More Heroes, for the top prize at the Scottish Independent Comic Book Awards. I thought it would be expedient of me to mention them since I'm hoping to work with these fine fellows in the future.

Keith Taylor's back in action with the second part of "If Wishes Were Horses." Part one can be found here. Anyone who's been over at The Cimmerian knows that the good Mr Taylor was a fellow blogger, and so it won't surprise anyone that I must admit that fact in any discussion of his fiction. Full disclosure, and all that. Nonetheless, almost despite my appreciation of his Howard scholarship, I can't recommend his fiction highly enough. A number of Howard fans and scholars have also entered the literary field, befitting aficionados of the great yarn-spinner, but that doesn't necessarily mean that their works are my cup of tea. Keith Taylor, dear readers, very much is my cup of tea. It took me a while to track down a copy of his Bard series, but they were well worth the effort, and I think the same could be said for yourselves.

"Gudrun Blackhair has returned."
Men said it all down both sides of the Narrow Sea. The Jutes of Kent said it with violent curses, and looked to their spears and their new king. When he heard the news he did not smile again for a full day.
Watchers on the white cliffs saw a ship pass by, a long swift ship bearing the emblem of a raven with spread wings on its crimson sail. Blackhair was flaunting. It was for show, that sail. She had two plain gray-green ones for business, but it was not in her mind to sneak home. Let them all know!

 - Prologue, Bard III - The Wild Sea

Being your usual stereotypical Scot, I eat stuff like this like salted porridge.

Although the Bard books are criminally out of print, Keith has returned to the realm of fiction with Servant of the Jackal God. Quite a change of pace from post-Roman Britain, but I don't doubt Mr Taylor's usual historical rigour would let up when his scribing hand turns to Egypt.


In a final tiny bit of REH-related news, I noticed that Gary Amdahl lists Conan the Barbarian among his literary pillars:

THE PILLARS OF ADOLESCENCE:
Conan the Barbarian
Harlan Ellison’s I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream
Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood
Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment
Would've been nice to mention Howard's name, and while I instinctively rankled at putting Conan in the "adolescent" category, it's alongside the works of Capote, Ellison and blasted Dostoevsky. How could I possibly fault REH's proxy inclusion among such individuals?

Sunday, 29 July 2012

80 Years of Conan at Pulpfest

Coming up next month is Pulpfest, the annual shindig dedicated to all things pulp: a celebration of Tarzan's and John Carter's centennials, former Cimmerian blogger Bill Maynard and Howard art extraordinaires the Keegans and Mark Schultz will be in attendance, and dozens of events and panels will take place.  As with Howard Days, Conan's 80th is high on the agenda, with a panel on the Cimmerian on Saturday the 11th:

On Saturday, August 11th, PulpFest will celebrate the eightieth birthday of Conan and the sword and sorcery genre with a panel presentation hosted by Rusty Burke, the editor of the highly acclaimed Howard reprint series published by Del Rey Books, the president of the Robert E. Howard Foundation, and a member of REHupa (The Robert E. Howard United Press Association).
Joining Rusty for Robert E. Howard’s Conan and the Birth of Sword and Sorcery will be Don Herron, editor of The Dark Barbarian (Greenwood Press, 1984), the first book to treat Howard’s work seriously, and its sequel The Barbaric Triumph (Wildside Press, 2004). For a quarter century, Don has been leading San Francisco’s Dashiell Hammett Tour, the longest-running literary tour in the United States. Also on board will be Brian Leno, an award-winning Howard scholar whose essays have appeared in The Cimmerian, REH: Two-Gun Raconteur, and Up and Down These Mean Streets, and John D. Squires, an Ohio bookseller whose knowledge of fantastic fiction is broad and deep. John is an expert on the work of M. P. Shiel and publisher of JDS Books and The Vainglory Press.

Rusty Burke and Don Herron,* of course, need no further introduction. I'd mentioned Brian Leno's "Atali, The Lady of Frozen Death" in 80 Years of Conan, but that's barely scratching the surface of his decades of work. "Lovecraft's Southern Vacation," a look at "Pigeons from Hell" which previously appeared in The Cimmerian v3 n2, can be read online. Most recently he's been doing great work on Howard and his admiration of Arthur "Kid" Dula at the Two-Gun Raconteur blog (parts one, two, three, four, five and six).

Were I a rich man, I'd take my private dirigible over to Columbus, Ohio, set anchor above the Hyatte Regency, and parachute down to enjoy what will undoubtedly be a fantastic and informative panel. Then steal all the books, because who's going to tangle with a man who has his own airship? Nobody, that's who.

*The site mispelled him as "Heron" in the tags: I can sympathise, having been misidentified at various points as Harrow, Harn, Harren and indeed Herron, but them's the digs.

Friday, 27 July 2012

New Howard Days Videos, 80 Years of Conan, Et Ceteratatata

As I've said probably too many times, "The Frost-Giant's Daughter" is a really tough story to do justice, and I was pretty adamant in doing "80 Years of Conan" in the order Howard wrote the stories. That order shows far more "continuity" than any of the fan-made chronologies, and it offers greater insight into the creation of the stories altogether. However, it's really tough hewing parts 4 and 5, as they deal with a lot of mythological and literary sources, and it's easy for me to go off on tangents.

Therefore, rather than wait until I'm finished the rest of FGD or any one story, I've decided that if I ever get to a point like this, I'll skip ahead to the next one. That isn't to say "The God in the Bowl" isn't as worthy of FGD, far from it: I just believe that it's more straightforward.  So if I don't get Part 4 out in the next few days, I'll move on to GitB (though I'm obviously still working on FGD), which will probably just be one or two parts.  Then, if I discover there is more to GitB than I anticipated, I already have one post up, so I can go on to the next story, and so forth. Part of this is because I really want to finish this series by the end of the year - 80 Years of Conan, after all - but I also don't want to rush or overlook things either, and feel I was guilty of that in Part 3.

In the meantime, Ben's uploaded some more Howard Days videos for your perusal. Once again, I'll update my Scottish Invasion posts, but here they are for convenience:

Howard & Academia
with Jeff Shanks, Charles Hoffman and Mark Finn

 

What's New with REH
with Paul Herman, Rusty Burke and Jay Zetterburg 



Oh, and I have to comment on the wild speculation of a Hobbit Trilogy, which I'm tying in with a few other thoughts on Tolkien merchandising and Christopher Tolkien, but that's another post.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

80 Years of Conan: "The Frost-Giant's Daughter" - Part Three

“Who are you to swear by Ymir?” she mocked. “What know you of the gods of ice and snow, you who have come up from the south to adventure among an alien people?”

Saturday, 21 July 2012

That's it, I'm calling a moratorium.

Alright folks, I tried. I really tried this time. But after reading the preview for #7, I don't think I can talk about Brian Wood's Conan the Barbarian any more. And it's because of this page.



Conan and Belit land safely on the Pictish coast, near Korvela Bay. Conan's "spirits are lifted" being in northern lands. Conan and Belit travel through the "green lands" of the Pictish Wilderness for several weeks. Then they hit Black River - which means that cosy little inn there in the centre panel is smack in the middle of Eagle, Toucan or Sea-Falcon tribelands, the most savage of the Pictish tribes.

Say, didn't Howard write about Conan travelling through the Pictish Wilderness once, but in the other direction, from Thunder River to the coast? In "The Black Stranger?" What was that like?

With a gasping, incoherent imprecation he turned and fled westward. He did not pick his way now, but ran with all the speed of his long legs, calling on the deep and all but inexhaustible reservoirs of endurance which are Nature's compensation for a barbaric existence. Behind him for a space the woods were silent, then a demoniacal howling burst out at the spot he had recently left, and he knew his pursuers had found the bodies of his victims. He had no breath for cursing the blood drops that kept spilling to the ground from his freshly opened wound, leaving a trail a child could follow. He had thought that perhaps these three Picts were all that still pursued him of the war-party which had followed him for over a hundred miles. But he might have known these human wolves never quit a blood-trail.
The woods were silent again, and that meant they were racing after him, marking his path by the betraying blood-drops he could not check. A wind out of the west blew against his face, laden with a salty dampness he recognized. Dully he was amazed. If he was that close to the sea the long chase had been even longer than he had realized. But it was nearly over. Even his wolfish vitality was ebbing under the terrible strain. He gasped for breath and there was a sharp pain in his side. His legs trembled with weariness and the lame one ached like the cut of a knife in the tendons each time he set the foot to earth. He had followed the instincts of the wilderness which bred him, straining every nerve and sinew, exhausting every subtlety and artifice to survive. Now in his extremity he was obeying another instinct, looking for a place to turn at bay and sell his life at a bloody price...

... The Cimmerian knew that for a thousand miles this western coast ran bare and uninhabited except by the villages of the ferocious sea-land tribes, who were even less civilized than their forest-dwelling brothers. The nearest outposts of civilization were the frontier settlements along Thunder River, hundreds of miles to the east. The Cimmerian knew he was the only white man ever to cross the wilderness that lay between that river and the coast...
"...You have been living with the Picts?" Valenso asked coldly.
A momentary anger flickered bluely in the giant's eyes.
"Even a Zingaran ought to know there's never been peace between Picts and Cimmerians, and never will be," he retorted with an oath. "Our feud with them is older than the world. If you'd said that to one of my wilder brothers, you'd have found yourself with a split head. But I've lived among you civilized men long enough to understand your ignorance and lack of common courtesy - the churlishness that demands his business of a man who appears at your door out of a thousand-mile wilderness..."

..."You're lying," said Zarono without conviction. "You've told us one lie already. You said you came from the woods, yet you say you haven't been living with the Picts. All men know this country is a wilderness, inhabited only by savages. The nearest outposts of civilization are the Aquilonian settlements on Thunder River, hundreds of miles to eastward."
"That's where I came from," replied Conan imperturbably. "I believe I'm the first white man to cross the Pictish Wilderness. I crossed Thunder River to follow a raiding party that had been harrying the frontier. I followed them deep into the wilderness, and killed their chief, but was knocked senseless by a stone from a sling during the melee, and the dogs captured me alive. They were Wolfmen, but they traded me to the Eagle clan in return for a chief of theirs the Eagles had captured. The Eagles carried me nearly a hundred miles westward to burn me in their chief village, but I killed their war-chief and three or four others one night, and broke away.
"I couldn't turn back. They were behind me, and kept herding me westward."
This entire story arc is impossible as it is, but the idea that Conan, a Cimmerian, and Belit, a southern woman completely inexperienced in such a climate, could just trek across the Pictish Wilderness with a pack-horse while receiving aid packages from friendly farmers is just... you can't say anything other than it's wrong. Because it is wrong. It's as wrong as Thulsa Doom and Khalar Zym just marching into Cimmeria with little to no resistance for exactly the same reasons. It's as wrong as depicting Cimmeria as a land of cheerful peasants who host pre-Greek Olympic games and battle Dil Pickle dragons.  It's as wrong as Conan the Adventurer.  There is no way you could spin this as being remotely faithful to the Hyborian Age as Howard wrote it when it directly contradicts practically the entirety of not only "The Black Stranger," but every other story that describes the Pictish Wilderness as a wild savage expanse - like "Beyond the Black River," commonly cited as one of the greatest, if not the greatest, Conan story of them all. This single page invalidates "Beyond the Black River."

I'm done, guys. Anything that comes after this page can't possibly top it, and anything I could say would be redundant. Wood, Cloonan. Lolos, Harren, et al, best of luck in your edgy, rebooted, re-imagined Conan, made for a new generation.  Call it Ultimates Conan. Call it New 52 Conan. All-Star Conan, Conan Forever, Conan Begins, Brian Wood Presents Conan, Conan: The Quickening, Conan the Barbarian: Friendship is Magic. Call it whatever you like. Just don't call it faithful to the source material.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Connor Coyne's Oberservations on Conan

I thought I'd share this interesting little link by author Connor Coyne (what a name!) which discusses Howard in context with Tolkien. I can't seem to log in to comment, so I'm going to take the liberty of doing so here.
Of course, Connor is only discussing The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian, and so he still has some great stories to look forward to should he wish to go on to the next stories.

In terms of the writing: Tolkien’s epics took place in “Middle-Earth” which had hints of but little direct connection to the present world, while Howard’s Conan stories took place in the Hyborian Age which was explicitly placed in a period of barbarism and empire-building that occurred between the fall of the continent of Atlantis and the rise of the ancient civilizations we know; these explicit references are most conspicuous in names we recognize from legend and history: Argos, Corinthia, Himaleya, Zimbabwe, and others.  Not only did Tolkien write novels, but he envisioned all of these novels being joined by subject matter and common history into an organic whole. Howard works were almost uniformly short stories, and while it is possible to read these as part of an organic whole, he preferred an episodic presentation that emphasized narrative unreliability.  Tolkien was quite comfortable deferring to magic as accounting for miraculous events; Howard posits a sort of invisible cosmic ground-state which makes magic-seeming events possible. Tolkien’s gods are unassailable, unreachable, and in fact, only angelic (and demoniac) messengers for a higher power that is only mentioned by name once. Howard’s gods intrude upon the world, and do battle with mortals in a way that is not only corporeal, but which expands the definition of the physical rather than constricting that of the spiritual. And so forth.  There are many differences.

 While it is indeed not as explicit as in the Hyborian Age, Tolkien's Middle-earth is indeed set in the distant past of this world. Also, it's the Himelian mountains, not "Himaleya," and Zimbabwe was later rendered Zembabwei in "The Servants of Bit-Yakin," but I left my pedant-lock key on as I was typing.

The most significant difference, however, I thought, is the different take on morality. I recall Carpenter’s biography of Tolkien, at least, saw much significance in his Catholicism, and that the various ranks and orders of beings, good and evil, in Middle Earth, was a validation of the Catholic cosmological order via Tolkien’s own thoroughly British upbringing.  Whereas in Conan, while morality is present, it is subjective, in flux, and almost post-modern.  The main conflict is not so much good vs. evil as barbarism vs. civilization.  The chief difference here between barbarism and civilization isn’t any notion of mercy, or compassion, or empathy, or cooperation; it is a difference of regimentation, and as a result, barbarism doesn’t dissemble. So we are meant to relate to the barbarian, and not the sorcerers, monarchs, pirates, and monsters with whom he contends.
In fact, Conan himself is often not sympathetic, although he probably has something closer to what we’d call a “conventional” morality than most of the other characters. But he’s not above, say, genocide (as in “Vale of the Lost Women”).
I definitely disagree that Conan was advocating genocide in "Vale." Obviously Conan's at his most dastardly in this story, but the destruction of the Bakalah by the Bamula is really little different from the endemic warfare of countless historical tribes throughout history. Obviously hardly morally defensible, but there's a difference in degree here. Conan hates the Picts more than any other people, but you never hear him call for their extermination as king despite him being entirely capable of doing so.

Curiously, this solved a big problem I have with most high fantasy: How is it that characters meant to embody all that is good and pure — to the extent of making huge personal sacrifices to save the world — are grim killing machines. And I don’t even mean “the good soldier” so much; you don’t see hints of pathos or PTSD after Aragorn, or Drizzt Do’Urden, or Aslan, or whoever kills their 999th orc. This is most often explained away as “all members of X race are evil,” and maybe that passed as acceptable in the decades surrounding the Civil Rights era, but in 2012 it seems deeply troubling on even casual examination. Other high fantasy strategies to reconcile this seem equally wanting.

Tolkien wrestled with the matter of the orcs all his life, but the reason you don't see hints of pathos or PTSD after Aragorn because this is a world where evil is practically a quantifiable matter, and an entire race is evil explicitly because they were "created" (or rather, abducted and raised en masse) by a supremely evil being, that perversion of life and robbing of free choice being considered one of Morgoth and Sauron's greatest crimes. Aragorn can sleep at night because he knows that if he doesn't, all he loves will be lost or destroyed. That said, there's definitely an element of regret when it came to the Haradrim and Easterlings, who were either deceived or actively enthralled to Sauron.

Conan partially solves this problem by making the protagonist consistently erratic and violent (though surprisingly, never amoral). I never see him as embodying all that is good and pure, but rather all that is barbaric and pure, and this makes his internal logic plausible. It also gives some measure of cover to Howard writing as a product of his time and place, which is to say, often much more explicitly racist than Tolkien ever was (we’re talking about a man who grew up in rural Texas boom-towns, and witnessed lynchings).
There is no evidence Howard ever personally witnessed a lynching, but the sheer pervasiveness and virulence of racism in the world during that time period and environment means that Howard's views must be properly contextualised.

However, the real reason I'm doing this post is to give proper praise to this:

...this being “low fantasy” did not prevent it from engaging in poetic, powerful language and grand philosophical themes. Although action-oriented in the manner of (though with much better craft than) TSR-fare, there is a tightly controlled correspondence between the words and actions of the characters.  Conan typically prevails because he is typically direct and straightforward; his battle prowess is as much a symptom of this transparency of character as it is his upbringing. Other characters weave byzantine plots only to dramatically fail when they learn that the realities the universe has created for the villains are no more stable than the “realities” they use to trap their victims. A sort of cosmic version of “getting caught in a lie.” There’s a lot of lush, powerful, rich, almost pungent imagery here, but beneath the beautiful writing is an ongoing discussion of Things That Matter.  And also interestingly (I’m using that word a lot) this comes forth all the clearer in the “weaker” Conan stories — those featuring little plot except an extra-dimensional monster and a naked damsel — because the Big Questions continue to get play even when the pulp clichès ride heavy.  So the lesson there, I suppose, is that I can depart from a “high fantasy” writing style without abandoning, or even mitigating, thematic depth.

Couldn't agree more, Mr Coyne.

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

80 Years of Conan: "The Frost-Giant's Daughter" - Part Two

The clangor of the swords had died away, the shouting of the slaughter was hushed; silence lay on the red-stained snow. The bleak pale sun that glittered so blindingly from the ice-fields and the snow-covered plains struck sheens of silver from rent corselet and broken blade, where the dead lay as they had fallen. The nerveless hand yet gripped the broken hilt; helmeted heads back-drawn in the death-throes, tilted red beards and golden beards grimly upward, as if in last invocation to Ymir the frost-giant, god of a warrior-race. 


Friday, 13 July 2012

80 Years of Conan: "The Frost-Giant's Daughter" - Part One



 Sometimes you just have to go with the classics.
    “Asgard and Vanaheim,” Prospero scanned the map. “By Mitra, I had almost believed those countries to have been fabulous.”
    Conan grinned savagely, involuntarily touching the scars on his dark face. “You had known
otherwise, had you spent your youth on the northern frontiers of Cimmeria! Asgard lies to the north, and Vanaheim to the northwest of Cimmeria, and there is continual war along the borders.”
    “What manner of men are these northern folk?” asked Prospero.
    “Tall and fair and blue-eyed. Their god is Ymir, the frost-giant, and each tribe has its own king. They are wayward and fierce. They fight all day and drink ale and roar their wild songs all night.”
 - "The Phoenix on the Sword"

Howard didn't have to look far for inspiration for the second tale of Conan the Cimmerian, and actively drew from the previous story to write it: "The Frost-Giant's Daughter" could almost be considered a direct prequel to "The Phoenix on the Sword," so obvious is the link between the two stories in the form of the above quotations.

The shortest of Howard's completed Conan stories is also, in my opinion, the most steeped in myth and symbolism. It may only be 9 pages long, but all nine of those pages are filled with all manner of subtext, some beautiful prose, unforgettable characters and imagery, and an economy which only Howard could provide.

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Bite-Sized Blog: Prometheus, Frost-Giants and Indo-Europeans



"The Frost-Giant's Daughter" may be only 9 pages long, but it's one of Howard's biggest stories, tying in an awful lot of themes and ideas from across multiple stories and mythic inspirations. It's one of the stories that I feel is really important to do justice to, which is why it's taken such a blasted long time to finish: I could've skipped ahead to "The God in the Bowl," but I really want to do everything in the order Howard wrote the stories, since that in itself takes up a big chunk of proceedings. Probably should've split it into multiple parts a while ago. So, in lieu of the next 80 Years of Conan, here's a round-up of links I found of interest.


Friday, 6 July 2012

A Word on Female Fans, Femininity and Fandom

 Yes, this is an actual cover for an actual upcoming monthly for Conan the Barbarian. My thoughts? It's the most amazing troll I've seen since the Darrow cover. Fantastic job, Dark Horse.

I've been holding off on "80 Years of Conan: The Frost-Giant's Daughter" because I've been wrestling with one of the key issues with the story.  I've been conversing with a number of individuals I believe to be more experienced and authoritative in said issue, because while I really don't want to talk about the deeply unpleasant subject, I also think it's important to acknowledge it. In any case, I'll be providing links to places that do talk about it, even if my take is going to be quite limited. However, there's another reason.

Monday, 25 June 2012

"Conan, And Why You Should Read Him" with Charles Hoffman

Charles Hoffman's Guest of Honour Speech for Howard Days 2012 was, naturally, Conan-centric given this year's theme.

   

As an aside, noticing Chuck's t-shirt reminded me of something Paul Sammon had said regarding Edgar Allan Poe: he had attended Nevermore: An Evening with Edgar Allan Poe, where Jeffrey Combs. Mark Finn shared a video he'd found with a few highlights, and as if Paul's recommendation wasn't enough to get me excited, now I really hope the show comes over to Britain:

 

Combs is a frighteningly close approximation of Poe, isn't he?

Sunday, 24 June 2012

"Conan the Existentialist" with Charles Hoffman

Ben's posted up Charles Hoffman's "Conan the Existentialist" panel from Howard Days 2012. While Rusty Burke introduces and contextualises the panel, Chuck was flying solo with this one for the most part.

 

While you'll have to track down a copy of "Conan the Existential" in print media (such as The Barbaric Triumph), Chuck has his own blog with many essays regarding Howard here.

Friday, 22 June 2012

Roll Up, Roll Up, Come See The Bearded Scotsman!

For those wondering what the bearded Scot who runs this place looks and sounds like in motion, Howard Days documentarian Ben "warriorphotog36" Friberg has uploaded his recording of the "80 Years of Conan"  panel from 10th June 2012. I've updated the Day 2 post to include the video, but I thought I'd highlight it here too, so I can discuss a few things.


While I agree that not everyone is going to like Conan, and that someone of a particularly analytical and scientific mindset may have a harder time, I must respectfully disagree with Mr Finn in his suggestion that Conan was the same sort of guy who would stuff 8-year-old Mark into lockers and take his lunch money.* I can't speak for American experiences with bullying, but that sort of thing sounds a lot more like Postumo of "The God in the Bowl" than Conan to me: the sort of cowardly jackbooting and macho posturing which would get you killed if you tried it in Cimmeria. I tend to think that if Conan was someone you knew at school, he'd be the one sent to juvie for beating up the gym teacher after being browbeaten once too often. And then stealing his car.

The script Paul was referring to seems to be Conan the Conqueror rather than the more famous Crown of Iron, since Conan doesn't become king of Aquilonia in the latter, at least in the script I've read: either that, or he's read a very different version of the script from me, which is entirely possible. Or maybe he liked Crown of Iron better than I did, which is also feasible (it'd be harder to find someone who liked it less than I did!)

I really wish I hadn't brought up that "barbarians didn't burn the Library of Alexandria" comment, since I don't think I was clear about it: what I was trying to say is that there's significant cultural baggage when it comes to the term "barbarian," equating it with destruction, violence, atavism and the like at the exclusion of positive traits. As such, when you say to some that Conan had a great love and respect for art, poetry and song, it comes as a shock to them: isn't Conan the Big Dumb Barbarian who's only interested in lowly carnal pursuits? That's what I was getting at.

Finally, isn't it amusing that a panel ostensibly about Conan talks about Robert E. Howard a lot more, especially the second-to-last question where we talk about what an alternate-universe Howard wrote instead of Conan?

When Ben posts up the rest of the panels, I'll let you know.

*Michal points out that Mark may have been talking about adherents of scientific positivism having that impression of Conan, not that Mark himself held those sentiments: that makes more sense to me. Hopefully Mark'll come by and clarify.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

The de Camp Controversy: Essential Reading For Those Not in the Know

I've noticed a number of inquiries recently regarding L. Sprague de Camp; more specifically, "what's the deal Howard fans have with L. Sprague de Camp?" Well, I think the best and most complete analysis of the sort of thing which many Howard fans take issue with is Morgan Holmes' Hyrkanian Award-winning "The de Camp Controversy."

For the ease of navigation, here are links to all 16 parts of "The de Camp Controversy."

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6
Part 7
Part 8
Part 9
Part 10
Part 11
Part 12
Part 13
Part 14
Part 15
Part 16

Of the essay, Holmes says:

“The de Camp Controversy” started out because of some heated debate at the Conan forum regarding L. Sprague de Camp’s legacy. I had originally intended it to be three or four blog posts and that would be it. Once I got into it, there was so much more to cover. I would still like to fill in some blank spots like the shopping of Conan to paperback publishers in 1963 and ’64. A trip to look through de Camp’s papers is in order someday along with some talks with still living players of events from decades gone by. So with some time and effort, an expanded version may see the light of day in the future.

I'd like to reiterate that my personal knowledge and interpretation of de Camp is probably very different from those of long-time Howard fans for the simple reason that I only got into Howard fandom at large years after his death. As such, all I have to go on is history and the word of those who were there at the time, and going on that, my take on him is that he was an extremely intelligent man who simply didn't get Howard - perhaps because he was very scientifically minded as opposed to emotionally minded, his background was just so different, or a simple blind spot - but rather than assume it was something he didn't understand, he presumed it was because there was nothing to get. For decades the idea that Howard was an inferior writer and world-builder whose work had no serious literary merit was, essentially, the status quo, even when you had essays arguing the latter all the way back to 1974 with Hoffman's "Conan the Existentialist." Nowadays, with Howard being considered a Serious Writer With Real Literary Merit more and more, it's important to note just how far we've come since those days.

Monday, 18 June 2012

The Agency of Lara Croft


A (long) while back, I talked about Lara Croft, and how I think Crystal Dynamics seem to entirely miss the point as to how to make her more "feminist-friendly," "realistic," "relateable" or whatever they think will make their classic game heroine more profitable in the seventh generation of consoles. And it turns out in addition to changing her physique to something less cartoonish (which wasn't a problem, since the other characters in the games were also cartoonish: you might as well complain about Bruce Timm's characters being unrealistic), they're changing her personality and, indeed, the very concept of her status as a protagonist. I was afraid of something like this, but I didn't expect the spectre of sexual violence - in a trailer, no less - to rise in a game which purports to be an origin story for one of the most uncompromising badasses in video games. Obviously, since this is a younger Lara, the change in her physique at least has an explanation. Even if I disagree with the intentions and reasoning behind it, it's at least understandable. The meddling with her character, however, is not as defensible, and certainly not when her character is threatened with violation.

Most of the internet is aflame - rightly so - with this insulting trope, which has already been applied to far too many heroic female characters, now being tacked onto the already perfectly exciting origin story of Ms Croft. I'm not going to talk about that, though I will link to several articles that do which I vigorously agree with. However, I am going to talk about agency, and why changing Lara from protagonist into protectee is every bit as damaging as what Project M did to Samus Aran in Metroid: Other M, and an example of how sometimes - if they aren't careful - when people are trying not to be sexist, they end up just being even more sexist.

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Prometheus and the Art of Narrative Rebellion

 I think a lot of complaints about Prometheus can boil down to this.
Complete with eclectic spelling.

I'd like to take a brief break from "80 Years of Conan" to talk in great detail - you have been warned - about another highly anticipated film, Prometheus. As with The Avengers, this is the fifth film in a franchise (well, seventh if you include the Alien vs Predator series), but this also has the prestige of Ridley Scott and the legendary Alien serving as its greatest strength and weakness. Strength because of both director and film's pedigree, weakness because the film has a lot to live up to. I'm rather disappointed, because what I thought was happening in Prometheus was very different.

Friday, 15 June 2012

A Sound of Thunder That Can Never Be Silenced


Coming back home from Scotland after Howard Days is always bittersweet: bitter because it'll be a full year or near enough until I can see all those wonderful people again, but sweet, because my life is immeasurably richer through having been there. Likewise, the death of a great creator - author, artist, director - leaves me feeling bittersweet. Bitter for the loss of life, the silencing of a great voice, the knowledge that there will be no more art from that wondrous mind, the crushing finality of it all; but sweet, for the knowledge, appreciation, admiration, even love, for all the beauty and wonder that the creator gifted unto the world.

So it is this month with the passing of Ray Bradbury, one of the greats of speculative fiction. In his truly enormous oeuvre one can find science fiction, fantasy, horror, drama, romance, history, existentialism, ranging from the touching to the chilling, from the cosmic wondrous to the humble down-to-earth, heartbreaking and heartwarming. And now all the books and plays and tales he's written are all he would ever write. To even summarise all of those magnificent works would be redundant, if not impossible: I have barely read a percentage of his vast literary output. But I can talk about the stories I have read, and they easily rank alongside the best fiction I've had the pleasure to read.


Thursday, 14 June 2012

The Third Scottish Invasion of Cross Plains - Aftermath


After the Howard Days festivities, most of the gang was getting ready to leave, though some remained for Breakfast: Matthew, Paul, Barbara, Tim, Ed, Jim, Indy, Cheryl, Jeff, Chris and others. I talked to Tim about Scotland and its lore and Barbara about various subjects. One-by-one, sometimes two-by-two, we bid goodbye to them all. Eventually only me, the sisters, Barbara and Paul were left.

We packed our bags, getting ready for a treat: Paul Sammon invited us to the cinema to watch Prometheus. Originally this was to take place in the evening, but he had to reschedule for the afternoon, so we got ready quickly and head to Brownwood. I'll probably review Prometheus at some point: suffice to say, I liked it for its ideas and intent rather than its execution. We all discussed the film on the drive back, and we all agreed that it was a good film that we couldn't really get a full handle on. Aurelia met up with us in the late afternoon one last time before she head on home to Arizona.

Then we had dinner with Barbara at Dairy Queen, talking about such disparate subjects as dancing, cinemas, Howard fandom, our friends in Arizona, and Scottish colloquialisms. Also, to my absolute shock, I discovered that - at this particular restraunt, at least - you can buy milk at Dairy Queen. I am utterly astounded: either this was a relatively new thing, or somehow, my indignation at being unable to purchase a glass of milk at a place called Dairy Queen has made a difference. Probably the first.  But who knows.  Unfortunately they didn't have chicken caesar, so I made do with what I was told was thousand island (didn't look much like it to me, maybe it's like how gravy over here's different).

We got home and sat in the courtyard of 36 West, talking with Paul about the usual, whilst being eaten alive by bugs bugs bugs, hopefully giving them indigestion in the process. Then we said our goodbyes, and in no time at all we were back at Abilene Airport, then Dallas Fort Worth, then riding a metal bird across the sky.* While America and her people have been good to me, your home's your home, and I started to hum "Loch Lomond" as I recognized the glaikit moors and damp hills of my beloved Scotland.

Now I'll get back to work, as I want to use all the energy I've accumulated in America to get cracking on "80 Years of Conan," the encyclopaedia, and a couple of other secret projects. In the meantime, do go back and check Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3, as I've updated them with a few more comments, and photographs. Can't wait for next year!


*I watched two films, Chronicle and Journey 2: The Mysterious Island. Chronicle was disappointing in that it was a very conventional film that happened to be told via found footage, borrowing liberally from Akira and just about every film that uses superpowers as metaphor for adolescent angst. It's the same issue as Cloverfield: despite the "realism" of the found footage style, the actors are all noticeably of that very American Teen Drama style of acting, and they're all ridiculously handsome. Kind of kills the verisimilitude they're going for when everyone looks like cast members of The OC. The villains of the piece are just preposterously over-the-top, so cartoonish and outlandish, you can't understand how they've survived this long without crossing the wrong person. And, most infuriating of all, they once again apparently live in a world where there are no superheroes. It's bad enough where Zombie movies refuse to use "the Z word," but fercryinoutloud, they have to look up telekineses in a book? I really hate this conceit in films, where by avoiding comparisons to other films in their own genre, they actually make the films more unrealistic in the process.  I refuse to believe that nobody in Cloverfield thought or said the word "monster," and I refuse to believe nobody used the word "superhero" in Chronicle.

Journey 2 was a affront to the work of Jules Verne (I'm as shocked and surprised as you are that the director of Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore was not in fact the second coming of Fleischer), but at least it has the dignity of explaining why it isn't a straight adaptation: like the previous film in the series, this treats the original Verne novels as based on real events, thus making them more like latter-day sequels than adaptations. I won't lie, there are two reasons I chose this over The Iron Lady: one, it had Dwayne Johnson, who I consider to be immensely entertaining when allowed to ad-lib; two, it promised monsters. I tell you one thing, this film had 100% more giant bees than The Iron Lady did, and 50% more monstrous reptiles. Louis Guzman almost ruined it with a truly heinous "comic relief" character, but Vanessa Hudgens provided ample enough distraction during those moments, and Michael Caine proved all those who thought he could sink any lower than Jaws: The Revenge very, very wrong.