Thursday 30 December 2010

Looks like the Encyclopaedia Hyboriana has company!

I got a surprising link from Google Alerts: as of yesterday, it appears there's going to be another reference guide to the Hyborian Age, using only Howardian sources.

A reference guide to the world of Conan the Cimmerian. Using only the original works of Robert E. Howard.
I hope to index all places, peoples, objects and creatures unique to Conan's time in the Hyborian Age.
No information will be used from books or comics from other authors over the years. Though I will provide a list of them.
Robert E. Howard's Hyborian Age is also tied with the Thurian Age of Kull the Atlantean, and also other characters in other time periods in recorded history. Information from other yarns with Kull, Bran Mak Morn, Turlogh Dubh O'Brien, Solomon Kane, James Allison, Cormac Mac Art, and other miscelleaneous stories will be indexed eventually as well. Providing ultimately a handy concordance of Robert E. Howards' fantasy tales.

Now, I'm definitely glad to see another Conan reference out there that doesn't include the work of other authors. The Conan Wikia is great, with tons of good info, but it isn't exclusive to Howard: the Conan the Cimmerian wiki, on the other hand, seems to have the same goals as the Encyclopaedia Hyboriana.  The fact that this wiki appears to have been created on the same day as my announcement... Well, I'm just going to treat it as a happy coincidence.

I've no intention of engaging in any sort of competition with the Conan the Cimmerian Wiki: both the Encyclopaedia and the Wiki share the same goals, and the energy is better spent in concordance than contention.  So, best of luck to Drush9999!

Wednesday 29 December 2010

Epic Syndrome and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

He's an uppity, precocious, intolerant English schoolboy! He's a fierce, quixotic, swashbuckling talking rat!  Together, they travel the land seeking treasure, adventure and excitement wherever it may be!  Eustace and Reepicheep!  Muppet and Mouse!  Runt and Rodent!  Faffer and the Gay(ly clad) Mouse!

I'll tell you my about favourite scene in The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.  It's the duel between Reepicheep and Eustace Scrubb.  It was a battle of wits and a tussle of egos as an arrogant, snotty braggart of a child is challenged by a cavalier talking mouse.  The fight was energetic, fun, endearing, and engaging: two characters were having it out not just physically, but mentally.  On one side Eustace, one of those insufferable children who claim to have absolute insight and cannot conceive of any reality outside the ones they deign to recognize; on the other, Reepicheep, a romantic, adventurous, wild-hearted swashbuckler ever eager to find new wonders and experiences, constantly challenging himself.  Two archetypes at odds with each other in a whimsical miniaturization of the heart of the Narnia story: the juxtaposition of reality with fantasy, and the conflict which arises within and without.

If Michael Apted could've just taken that scene and figured out how to apply it to the rest of the film, as well as take hints from the best parts of the previous films,  Dawn Treader could've been great.  As it is, it's just ok: not bad, but man, just a bit more boldness and daring...

Tuesday 28 December 2010

The Encyclopaedia Hyboriana: A Reference Guide to Robert E. Howard's Hyborian Age of Conan the Cimmerian

Ever since I got really into Robert E. Howard after my second gateway via Conan, I've wondered just why there isn't a counterpart to Robert Foster's Middle-earth Encyclopaedia.  Here, I thought, was a world rich in atmosphere, facination and delight, with all the characters, places, events, relics and wonders one could possibly want. It seemed every line of exposition was pregnant with a story in itself. A character who appeared in a single sentence would have the foundations of their entire history encapsulated within a few words.  A mere phrase opened up whole worlds of possibilities.

So where is that Hyborian Age Encyclopaedia?

Well, Deuce let the Smilodon fatalis out of the bag over at the REH Forums, so I figure there's no time like the present to announce The Big Secret.  All those wondering what happened to Conan: Total War and the many other projects I've been working on can finally know the truth: all my effort over the past year has been put into a reference book for the Hyborian Age.

Monday 27 December 2010

The Alleged Conan Formula

More recently I decided to read Robert E. Howard, particularly his Solomon Kane and Conan stories.
I am not a fan of Conan, I’m afraid. At least for the first several stories that Howard wrote, I felt like they were all derivatives of each other. 

This is exactly why I've set up the Newcomer's Guide. This gentleman, Bruce Nielson, has claimed to have read the first thirteen Conan stories - presumably this means The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian - yet I can see much reason to doubt that statement.  If he has read them, I really thinks he needs to read them again.

Ah well.  Can't please everyone, even though I don't know how anyone could consider "The Phoenix on the Sword," "The Frost-Giant's Daughter," "The God in the Bowl" and "The Tower of the Elephant" remotely similar enough to be "derivative of each other. But that's not my problem.  My problem is that Mr Nielson has gone to the trouble to produce a "Conan formula" which apparently applies to the stories, based on his reading of the first thirteen.  The problem is, as I shall demonstrate, that this formula does nothing of the sort.

Sure, he's just a blogger on the internet.  But I'm just a blogger on the internet.  This is the kind of stuff the Newcomer's Guide seeks to challenge.  And challenge it is what I intend to do.

Saturday 25 December 2010

Metal Barbarian Dinosaur Comics: The Expedition

We should've left long ago.  Before Sir John died.  Thinking back to that day...

History would record our journey as an attempt to find the Northwest Passage.  Better that history believes that, than the truth of what we were really searching for in the Great Bleak North.  The Navy were ordered not to search for us, even if we were years overdue.  No doubt Mrs Franklin would endeavour to search for us, but the Admiralty would see that her efforts would be in vain.  Not that it would matter, we thought: we'd be home to much fanfare in record time.  We fancied ourselves well prepared, even over-cautious, for the mission.  After all, we proud men of the Queen's Navy were masters of the mightiest empire on earth, the mightiest in the history of makind.  The British Empire, the crowning achievement of humanity.

But only humanity.

After a year or so on the ice, Captain Crozier organized the two ships' crew, and we left. Terror and Erebus were trapped, broken and chewed by the icy jaws of the very land around us.  The strongest vessels the Empire could create, twisted and crushed like Autumn leaves. Half the men were dead already.  There was no other choice.  It was no longer safe: we had to leave.  Escape.

Friday 24 December 2010

The Centenary of Fritz Leiber

Today is Fritz Leiber's Centenary*.  Despite not actually being blown away by his work,  I feel like I should honour it with a post on my blog. I've only read "The Snow Women," "The Unholy Grail" and "Ill Met in Lankhmar" so far, and to my sadness I wasn't particularly moved.  Underwhelmed, in fact.  I guess I just started off with bad stories: if these were in fact sub-par Leiber, it'd be no fairer to judge him on them than to judge Howard if all I read of his work were the sub-par Conan stories. Leiber deserves more, though, so one of my New Year's Resolutions (early announcement, I know) is to give him another chance.  I have both Lankhmar collections of Fantasy Masterworks, so I'll definitely have a go with them. Maybe I'll crack open Our Lady of Darkness, or hunt down "Gonna Roll The Bones": I've heard good things about them.

In lieu of a tribute myself, I'd rather gather some of the fantastic tributes I've found around the internet, all far more qualified to speak on Leiber than myself: James Maliszweski, James Enge and P.C. HodgellSteve Tompkins, Joseph A. McCullogh, and John Howard's In Memoriam.

So many people speak highly of Leiber, many of whom's opinion I respect.  I must be missing something.  I aim to find out.

*In an earlier version of this post, I inadvertently made the rather profound exaggeration that it was "Leiber's 100th Centenary."  As Michael Halila patiently pointed out, he ain't that old!

Fear of a Black Asgard

I haven't really talked about what I think about casting Idris Elba as a Marvel character based on a Norse Mythological deity who was referred to as "The White God" because I think it would be redundant.  I've already said my piece on why positive discrimination is a self-defeating crock, and it applies here. In any case, I can't have any respect for the whole "colourblind casting" phenomenon considering the Jamie Foxx as Frank Sinatra fiasco. However, since it's still going - as nerd controversies are wont to do - I thought I'd talk more about this post at Man vs Clown!, and the whole Black Heimdall thing.

Thursday 23 December 2010

More Fodder for the Newcomer's Guide

As I've said before, sometimes coming across something... not complimentary about Howard can inspire me to look at the author in a new way.  Take this post at Man vs Clown!, which speaks about the Iris Edelba controversy of Thor:

Not seeing Thor simply because a black man was cast in what you think ought to be a white man’s role may be racist; however, not seeing it because you think the casting may be symptomatic of many other boneheaded directorial choices isn’t. It’s not okay to complain about this because you’re a racist. It is okay to complain about this if you’re a fanboy, the same kind of person objects to the casting of Stargate: Atlantic actor Jason Momoa as Conan the Barbarian because his eyes are brown rather than the “volcanic blue”2 described by Robert E. Howard (who was a racist, which complicates matters).3
2. Whatever “volcanic blue” means. I’ve never understood this one. Last time I checked, volcanoes were grey to brown and threw up in reddish orangey colours. This must be what they call colour-blind casting.
3. As much as I love his pulp fiction, imagine how badly someone like Robert E. Howard would do as a casting director, given his reliance on broad, crude racial stereotypes. “Need a sinister villain? You want a Chinaman. Get me Jackie Chan’s agent.” “Crafty? Let’s get a bankable Jew. How’s Adam Sandler sound?” “Brutish? That part’s made for a Negro. Is Sidney Poitier still working?” It just wouldn’t work.

How cute.  My response is below:

Oh come now, that's just ridiculous and not borne out by any sort of analysis of Howard's fiction.  The vast majority of villains in Howard stories are white men.  Pick a Conan story: it's more likely than not Conan's enemy is a sinister white sorcerer, a crafty white general, or a brutish white warrior.  Sure, Howard was writing in the age of Yellow Menace and Jim Crowe laws were still in effect, but if you break down the stories, white men outnumber all other ethnicities combined.  It is simply false to state otherwise.

Besides, if you pluck most pulp fiction authors of the 1930s, of course they're going to have "broad, crude ethnic stereotypes."  That's how bad it was in the 1930s.  It was illegal for a black person to marry a white person in most states.  Miscegenation was outlawed.  Lynchings, while not common, were frequent in the south during Howard's lifetime.  Scientific theory, at the time, was inundated with the pseudoscience of racial theory.  Is it really any wonder that Howard said and wrote things that would be considered incredibly insensitive nowadays?

In any case, Howard would clearly cast Sidney Poitier as Ace Jessel, the intelligent, cheerful, courageous, sympathetic boxer, the only of Howard's boxing heroes to be a world champion.  For a supposed racist, it's strange that Howard wrote two stories featuring an intelligent, sympathetic black man, especially one where he has to overcome the town's prejudice towards him - and succeeds.

"Volcanic blue" is a reference to larimar, a very rare and highly prized variety of volcanic rock noted for its vibrant, intense blue hue.

So, I have a few more things to put up on the Newcomer's Guide: "How many of Howard's villains were black/Asian/Jewish/Not White," and "What does volcanic blue mean?"

I've already answered the latter, though a more in-depth explanation of what larimar is and a helpful image wouldn't go amiss.  However, for the latter I'll actually go through the stories, and note the ethnic origin of each villain, as well as heroes.  Can't forget the heroic minority characters like Ace Jessel, N'Longa, Sakumbe, Ajonga, Yasunga, Laranga, N'Yaga, N'Gora, John Garfield, Lala Tzu, Conchita, Belit, Juan Lopez...

Wednesday 22 December 2010

The Newcomer's Guide to REH: Update

The more I come across people who don't know their Conans from their Cohens and Howards from their Jordans, the more I'm convinced the Newcomer's Guide is a necessity.  So necessary, that I'm thinking of expanding it beyond this blog, and into a site in itself.  Rather than being one big long page, each question will have its own page dedicated to it, with a contents list linking to each.

Since I've found Wordpress to be a more versatile platform, I've set up the bare bones here:

I still need to sort the basics out, but all the finished stuff will be put up.  Anyone with any ideas on how to improve, streamline or facilitate the site would be most appreciated.

EDIT: Gragh, I forgot to make it visible to everyone.  A fine debut that is!  The blog's very Spartan right now, and I'm still working out the kinks - like navigating the posts.  All I can suggest right now is go to the categories and click through them: some don't have anything, others have a few.  Boy, Wordpress's harder than I thought!

Tuesday 21 December 2010

The Philip Palmer Challenge

I like to imagine he's contemplating how his company is going to take over the Crown.

In his recent post, Philip Palmer gives the very silly man Edward Docx both barrels for his very silly post.  It's from The Guardian, that home of baby intellectuals, so I can't be surprised at the silliness.  How silly?  Here's an excerpt:

... in my view, we need urgently to remind ourselves of – for want of better terminology – the difference between literary and genre fiction; because, to misquote the literary essayist Isaac D'Israeli, "it seems to me a wretched national compulsion to be gratified by mediocrity when the excellent lies before us".

It appears to be of the typical tired "fantasy, science fiction and horror aren't "real" literature" stripe, and again, he brings up that odious, snivelling, miserable, worthless malapropism "literary fiction."  Few phrases infuriate me more than "literary fiction": "now a major motion picture" is pretty close, though.  Hell, by his definition, isn't literary fiction in itself a genre - and thus, genre fiction?  I'd love to see Docx bend over backwards to make allowances for the many classics which couldn't be anything but "genre fiction".  Palmer does a fantastic job destroying, disintegrating and defenestrating Docx's idiocy.

However, he has something to say about Howard.  Something both challenging, and awesome.

Monday 20 December 2010

Seven things I want to see in a Conan game

 Look on the bright side: there is no way any new Conan game 
could be as bad as Conan: The Mysteries of Time. No way whatsoever.

Sure, a good Conan game needs good combat, but that isn't to say that's all there is to it.  The Conan stories have a lot of appeal beyond hacking dudes to pieces: there are Conan's gigantic melancholies and gigantic mirths, the exploration of the Hyborian Age, battle tactics and strategy, Hyborian lore and legend, uncovering mysteries, and plain old fashioned girls & grog. Therefore, in addition to the combat/stealth which should make up the bulk of Conan gameplay experience, I suggest the following facets of gameplay.

In addition to, you know, adapting the bloody stories in some manner.

Sunday 19 December 2010

Destructoid on the new Conan game

A couple of things:

1. Mr Holmes seems to think Conan=Arnold. But hey, lots of people think that. Just like lots of people think fingernails keep growing after you die.

2. I beg to differ: Severence: Blade of Darkness and The Mark of Kri are ten times the "Conan" game Rastan is.

3. If I see anything - anything - of Mr Holmes' list except Number 2 (and arguably Number 3) appearing in the game, I'm going to defenestrate my Xbox.

Thursday 16 December 2010

Oh, Hyboria!, The Wrath of Zym's prequel, and a new game?

Remember a while back me and Miguel Martins teamed up to discuss the many Howardian projects on Paradox's lineup? Remember one of them being Age of Conan: Hyboria!, from the makers of Robot Chicken?

Well, it still seems to be a go.

Tuesday 14 December 2010

Sword Woman and Other Historical Adventures: The List

Rusty Burke has very kindly released the contents for the upcoming (boy oh boy oh boy) Sword Woman and Other Historical Adventures on the REHupa website.

I'm excited.  Are you excited?  Because I'm excited.  Excited!

Sunday 12 December 2010

Quick Link: The Return of Darkstorm

It's fair to say that Dale Rippke is one of those who got me into really studying the Hyborian Age. When I came across the late Heroes of Dark Fantasy website, it was a revelation. Since then, Dale has somewhat disappeared from the aether. But lo, what do I see on the horizon, but The Darkstorm Files?  All the classic essays - Ciudad de Ladrones, To the Styx and Beyond, The Blue East, The Tao of Conan - have made their way there, and I really hope to see more.

Though I don't know if Dale's going to get back in the saddle, I do want to see him return in a more active role.

The Sexualisation of Lara Croft

And so we find Crystal Dynamics have released a preview of their latest Tomb Raider game, and I'm getting more and more frustrated and bothered by their direction for the games. I'll say that there are elements of this picture I like: I love that Lara actually looks like she's been mucking about in some godforsaken corner of the world, rather than being pristine and clean. She also has a few scrapes and bruises, also very appreciated.  I also like her determined expression, very strong and defiant. I don't see why it was necessary to change her trademark khakis for trousers, but I'm not too bothered, since it looks reasonable enough.  Overall, the image portrays a woman who's gone through an awful lot in a very short space of time, but come out alive.  Pretty powerful image, if I do say so.

That said, I have issues with it that are part of a much bigger problem.

Thursday 9 December 2010

Jackson Inserts Gratuitous Elves Into Tolkien Adaptation... Again

You'll notice I haven't discussed the upcoming The Hobbit film much.  That's because... well, I can't really think of anything to say.  Everything that was great and wonderful in Jackson's The Lord of the Rings will probably be great and wonderful in The Hobbit.  With that, everything that was frustrating and infuriating about Jackson's The Lord of the Rings will too, probably.

Wednesday 8 December 2010

Damned if they do, damned if they don't

Alright, it's clear my self-inforced moratorium on Howard and Conan-related posts is going to be about as successful as the Prohibition, so I'm just going to come out and say it:

Calling the new Conan film Conan the Barbarian is a terrible idea, but they've painted themselves into a corner with it.

Monday 6 December 2010

Treading Water: Narnia at the Movies

There are few things I hate more in life than the Major Motion Picture sticker.  You might as well have the sticker say "why bother reading when you could watch it on a big screen?"

This SF-and-F history month, I wanted to talk about some of the other greats of SF-and-F.  I'm just back from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (with the kids, you see, yeah, the kids!), and among the trailers, which are part of cinema habitual routine for me, I noticed that Walden Media really really seem to have gotten The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader off the ground.

Considering I had to sit through The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe and Prince Caspian to get to the one Narnia book I truly enjoyed, I'm excited - though given what's come before, about as nervous as one can expect.

Friday 3 December 2010

Curse of the Lancers

I'd been thinking about my responses to people who I think "wrong" Howard.  Well, the truth is I don't think people are actively out to get him, just that people tend to be rather dismissive, or don't see the deeper appeal of Howard.

Like John Randolph Burrow.  I'll post a link to his site, and my response below.  In it, he basically says that Howard defenders who claim Howard is realistic actually mean that Howard is gory and blood-soaked.  That I would disagree with on a number of levels, mostly because there are plenty of Howard stories with nary a cleaving or stabbing to be seen, that are plenty realistic.  However, he then goes on to say that the action scenes are no more believable than the nonsense of action movies, like how "one could avoid injury in any massive explosion by simply leaping."  Apparently, Howard is as "realistic" as Broken Arrow and Chain Reaction.  Which I find hilarious, as I explain below, since Howard's violence is in fact pretty damn realistic.  I guess Mr Burrow suffers from that Reality is Unrealistic malady some suffer from.

Thursday 2 December 2010

Make December Science Fiction and Fantasy History Month

My dear friends, I am calling on you to help me start a movement. This December, let us take another step in further promoting one of our great loves---Science Fiction and Fantasy. Let us declare December to be SCIENCE FICTION AND FANTASY HISTORY MONTH.

What? Why does it have to be promoted? you ask. Aren't we inundated with it? Isn't there more genre in film and on television than ever? Isn't the fiction market dominated by genre?

Perhaps, but as lovers of the genre, we owe it to ourselves to promote quality work and to invite the young into our fold ,giving them a perspective and understanding of the traditions and tropes of our literary world. Consider the political and cultural influence of science fiction and fantasy, and how it has helped us vent our angst, voice our identity, and celebrate our optimism.

So Spaketh Stewart Sternberg.

I think it's a great idea.  I've been neglecting my SF for, oh, a decade or so, ever since I rediscovered Howard, and discovered the great fantasy fiction I missed out on. Indeed, The Blog That Time Forgot is quickly starting to become A Beardy Scot Rambles About Howard, occassionally punctuated by various other authors, cinema and works.

Well, I'm going to make an attempt to discuss more of the classic history of SF&F throughout December.  I might revisit SF classics like The Time Machine, Star Maker, Roadside Picnic, The Stars My Destination, The Forever War, A Canticle for Leibowitz, I Am Legend, Flowers for Algernon, More Than Human, Childhood's End, and more Ray Bradbury stories than I can remember.  I might also go for fantasy classics I haven't had an opportunity or inclination to talk about: The Prydain Chronicles, Stormbringer, "Black God's Kiss," The Metal Monster, etc.

If not, I'll just re-read some old favourites.

Dammit, They Stole My Idea: Rare Exports and Christmas Tales of Terror

In the depths of Lapland's Korvatunturi Mountains, 486 metres deep, lies the closest guarded secret of Christmas. The time has come to dig it up...

So goes the synopsis of the Finnish film Rare Exports, a tale of terror of that time-honoured Christmas tradition of turning Santa Claus into a figure of terror.  In theory, it isn't hard to imagine why: a great bearded man who can travel to every household on the planet in a single night, commander of hordes of elves who do his bidding, someone who somehow knows every human child's behavioural patterns... Yeah, it doesn't take much to turn that into a psychological chiller.

Alright, in fairness, the idea of doing a darker tale around the sinister early legends of Santa Claus is probably one many people have had before.  Darker fairy tales are not new: indeed, fairy tales were dark from the beginning.  The idea of twee, safe, happy fairy tales is a recent and short-lived phenomenon.  That's why I have to laugh at all those authors and directors who give the pretense of making "new and imaginative takes on cosy fairytales," especially when they pale in comparison to the Stygian horrors of the timeless folk traditions.  Even the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen.

Still, from what I can see from the trailer and elsewhere, Rare Exports seems to rely on the concept of Santa as a not-quite-human, possibly supernatural demon from the dark past of European folklore.  In other words, the Joulupukki taken to its logical conclusion.  I can't discern more than that, and since the film seems to be a Raimi-esque comedy-horror, it might not even try to explain it further than "Santa's a lot darker than you Coca-Cola drinkers thought."

Me, I was instantly reminded of the many "Little People" works inspired by Arthur Machen, particularly Howard's "The Little People."  I'd often wondered about applying such ideas not just to fairies and elves, but to other traditions like Santa Claus.  As I think you could expect, their history stretches all the way back to the Hyborian Age.  I'll get into more detail as a sort of "Christmas post," but let's just say Walking In The Air, With Burning Feet of Fire isn't the only tale of terror that can be spun from the white whiskers of Father Christmas...

Wednesday 1 December 2010

Mr Ellison, you're brilliant, but you really can be an idiot at times.

"Fight the power! Stick it to the man! And git off my lawn you dern kids!"

Harlan Ellison is a fantastic author.  "Jeffty is Five," "The Deathbird," "A Boy And His Dog," "I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream," - brilliant tales that can hang with the best of science fiction and horror. He's expanded into the world of television, with Outer Limits and Star Trek episodes to his name (albeit significantly altered in the latter case), as well as video games, as in I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream.  He deserves praise for some of the most iconic pieces of post-apocalyptic science-fiction cinema, be it in inspiration as in The Terminator, or in adaptations like A Boy and his Dog.  I'll always feel tremendously saddened that his adaptation of I, Robot was never filmed, especially considering that other one that came out.

Almost as famous as Ellison's stories is his penchant for controversy. Harlan Ellison is a man clearly unafraid to speak his mind - almost a man afraid not to speak his mind.  He's outspoken, forthright and downright abrasive, and makes no apologies for it.  Whether one agrees or disagrees, one certainly can't fail to take notice of him.

However, like many opinionated authors, he sometimes comes up with stuff that's just plain wrong.  Eh, nobody's perfect.