Friday week in review

A Friday Haiku

First day of Autumn

Someone needs to tell Summer

Ninety-five? Really?

Edited to Add: Milwaukee reached 95 degrees Fahrenheit today. Broke the 1937 record of 92 degrees Fahrenheit.

Here we go, Brewers, here we go!

Only 10 games left and the Milwaukee Brewers are still in the thick of the National League playoff race, despite losing two crucial games that would have tied them with Denver for the final Wild Card berth and brought them a game closer to the Cubs.

Win or lose, if they make the playoffs or don’t, this is already one of the Brewers’ most exciting seasons.

For one thing, no one expected this (except us true blue fans). Every so-called experts predicted the Brew Crew would be cellar dwellars, battling it out with Cincinnati for last place. After all, they had that fire sale, getting rid of all their star players, except for Ryan Braun, and filled their roster with farm club no-names. The Brewers were essentially fielding a Triple-A team, or so the experts claimed.

Did the Brewers even see the script for this season? It’s doubtul because they immediately surprised everyone by jumping into first place in their division from the very beginning and didn’t let up until the All-Star Break. Not only that, they led the league in home runs, RBI, and several other stats. For a time, they were the best team in baseball.

In other words, this lowly small-town team of Triple-A ballplayers dared to disrespect the World Series Champion Chicago Cubs as well as the perennial playoff contending St. Louis Cardinals by beating the pants off of them.

And here we are, on the final lap of the baseball season and the Brewers are still in the thick of it. Second place in the division and still within reach of a Wild Card.

True fans couldn’t be happier and even if they miss the post-season, we can’t complain. They did more than exceed expectations, they knocked them out of the park. They’re a very young team and as they’ve shown, very talented with a lot of heart. They have fun and are just plain fun to watch.

Brewers tear off Erik Thames’ shirt to celebrate his walk off home run against San Diego in June 16, 2017.

This season was all about team-building and gaining valuable experience, especially on how to deal with the intense pressure of a playoff race.

Whatever the outcome of the season is, this team is no longer is a bunch of no-names. In a short time, everyone now knows Domingo Santana, Zach Davies, Eric Thames, Travis Shaw, Josh Hader, Corey Knebbel, Manny Pina (Lucroy who?), Orlando Arcia, nerd boy Eric Sogard, Keon Broxton, Brett Phillips with his 80-grade arm and they’ve put the rest of the league on notice. These guys are going to be contenders for many seasons yet to come.

It’s a great time to be a Brewers fan.

Weigh-In Friday

I’m up again by a couple pounds. Sometimes a little cheating is fine, but losing track of how much you cheated isn’t. It’s like trying to keep a mental tally of your finances instead of writing it down in a ledger, then veing surprised when you get an overdraft notice from the bank. “I could have sworn we had more money!” Our minds like to play tricks on us.

I take some solace in the fact that despite gaining weight, my fat percentage still went down and my muscle percentage went up.

The never ending edits

You’ve heard of the Never Ending Story? Well, I’m trapped in the never ending edits.

I would have hoped I was past the creation stage and well into the pokishing stage of my manuscript, but that isn’t the case.

As my editor side goes through my story to correct flaws in tense, fix passive sentences, and so on, my writer side is also going, “Hey! I have a great idea to add here! How about if…”

And it isn’t just one or two scenes the writer side is considering. It’s every crucial scene. New ideas for dialog, for subplots, and setting as well. Some minor, some major. Not edits, but actual rewrites.

Shut up, writer side, you aren’t helping.

Worse, now I’m worried I might have fallen down the research rabbit hole, that never ending time suck where you go to verify one thing only to have that topic lead to another topic and another and another. None related to what you started out researching, but all addictingly interesting enough to draw you in and hold you there. A prisoner to your own desire for more knowledge.

Help me.

The GOP wants to kill us

There is a lot of buzz going on about how scary the recent release of the remake of Stephen King’s It is. But there’s something even scarier on Capital Hill. It’s a two-headed monster called Graham-Cassidy and it wants to kill us all.

Millions will lose their health insurance. Many due to pre-existing conditions (which they say are covered but they really aren’t), necause the bill has no guarantees they can get coverage.

States that accepted Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act, would lose their funding, but more importantly and scarier, there will be complete changes to how Medicaid is funded to all states. This is the GOP saying “Fuck you” to the elderly and disabled.

This is the worst of the Trumpcare repeal and replace bills yet!

Call your Congressperson. Complain. Give them an earful that we’re tired of their conservative bullshit. Save the ACA.

Unless you want to die.

TheRump wants to kill us too

If there is one thing this week has shown, it’s how much of a divide exists between the deplorables and the rest of the world.

The great orange turd addressed the United Nations in his own inimitable style. In other words, he appalled all civilized people everywhere with his ignorant and bellicose rhetoric, threatening to destroy another nation.

But not everyone was shocked or appalled by TheRump’s insane patter. On the contrary, my Twitter feed exploded with praise for King Cheeto. “It’s about time we had a real President who stands up for Murica!” They want him to destroy a nation. Any nation. Do they look different from us? Speak some funny language other than English? Kill ’em! Kill ’em all! They think going to war should always be our first option in negotiations. Diplomacy is for wimps.

It should come as no surprise the trumpettes admired his angry posturing, his childish namecalling, his chest pounding and threat displays and saw them as something to be proud of. And that’s why Hillary appropriately named them deplorables.

Currently reading

Last night I was digging through my To-Be-Read pile of books and came across “Weird Tales: The Magazine That Never Dies,” an anthology of short fiction that had appeared in that magazine over the years, edited by Marvin Kaye. I picked it up and started reading and couldn’t put it down. I’ve always enjoyed pulp fiction and Weird Tales had some of the best by some of the great writers of the day, like Ray Bradbury, H. G. Wells, Fritz Lieber, August Derleth, L. Sprague de Camp, Robert Bloch, Tanith Lee, H. P. Lovecraft, and Richard Matheson to name a few.

I leave you with a song

For your listening pleasure, a song with which to start your weekend and also to ring in Autumn.

So fell Autumn rain, washed away all my pain, I feel brighter somehow, lighter somehow to breathe once again

So fell Autumn rain, washed my sorrows away, with the sunset behibd somehow I find the dreams are to stay

So fell autumn rain

From “So Fell Autumn Rain” by Lake of Tears

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Lancer/Ace Conan the Adventurer: Rereading and Reminiscence

We’ve arrived! Conan the Adventurer was the book that started it all, for me and everyone. Although this is listed as the fifth book in the series of 12 Lancer/Ace Conan anthologies, in truth, it was the first book published in 1966 and ironically, the first book I read when I discovered them in 1971 or 1972, and oddly enough, the inside first page blurb says it’s the proposed fourth book in an eight book series. Confused?

I can still remember the day I first saw this. I was in Walden’s Books at Capital Court, the mall down the street from our house. I was browsing for something. I don’t know why, since at that time, I really wasn’t much of a reader.  I read what they demanded of me in school and of my own choice, I read simple things like the Bobbsey Twins (the original series ran 72 volumes about two sets of fraternal twins), the Hardy Boys Mysteries (a series about two teenage amateur sleuths), and some books by Whitman Publishing starring television characters, like Lassie and Fury.  and such. Books for children and teens. Safe books.

More than likely, I was there looking for the latest Mad Magazine paperback reprint by Signet (“The Bedside Mad,” “Boiling Mad,” “The Voodoo Mad,” and so on.), or possibly a paperback reprint of “The Wizard of Id,” or “BC,” or even “Eek and Meek.” But a real book? One with all words and no pictures? No. It wasn’t what interested me. Yet.

So how or why I found myself in the science fiction/fantasy men’s adventure area in the far corner of the bookstore, looking at the bottom shelf, I have no idea. And yet, I remember that moment like it was yesterday. There I was, scanning novels that I knew nothing about. The authors all unknown to me that day. And then I saw it! The name Conan meant nothing to me. The name Robert E. Howard meant nothing to me. But the cover art. This wasn’t a picture of Lassie pulling his owner out of a bog. No. This cover featured a massively muscled warrior standing grimly upon a pile of dead bodies while a scantily clad, sensuous woman clung to his leg. This wasn’t safe. That art, by Frank Frazetta, took me by the shirt collar and slapped my face, hard. It said, “Read me, you pencil-necked geek! Experience adventure! Experience unbridled, blood-splattered action!”

Below the picture were the words: THE WORLD’S GREATEST FANTASY HERO – “THE ULTIMATE IN SWASHBUCKLING ADVENTURE” and on the back it declared: A HERO MIGHTIER THAN TARZAN… ADVENTURES MORE IMAGINATIVE THAN “LORD OF THE RINGS”

I was sold. So I took Conan the Adventurer to the counter, paid for it, rushed home, and began to read and my life was forever changed. My vistas grew. My world expanded. I instantly matured. I became a reader (and it also sent me down the path of writing). I was hooked on Robert E. Howard, Frank Frazetta, and heroic fantasy.

Conan the Adventurer

Conan the Adventurer

Conan the Adventurer (1966) by Robert E. Howard and L. Sprague de Camp

Contents
“Introduction” (L. Sprague de Camp)
“The People of the Black Circle” (Robert E. Howard)
“The Slithering Shadow” (Robert E. Howard)
“Drums of Tombalku” (Robert E. Howard and L. Sprague de Camp)
“The Pool of the Black One” (Robert E. Howard)

Introduction. Brief introduction to Robert E. Howard and the Conan stories.

The People of the Black Circle. First published in Weird Tales over three issues, September, October, and November 1934. Reprinted in The Sword of Conan (Gnome Press 1952), Fantastic (January 1967), The Bloody Crown of Conan (Del Rey 2004). Adapted in Savage Sword of Conan #16-19. The second and third installments in Weird Tales were preceded by a recap written by Howard himself. This was unusual, because the Weird Tales staff usually wrote such things. These recaps were reprinted under the title of “The Story Thus Far…” in Conan of Cimmeria: Volume Two (1934) (Wandering Star 2004) and The Bloody Crown of Conan (Del Rey 2004).

This novella has been called one of Howard’s best and it is rather good, with plenty of action, magic, and interesting characters. The king of Vendhya is cursed by Black Seers of Yimsha. Conan is a hill chieftain who has seven of his men captured by the king’s sister, Devi Yasmina, who wants to use them as leverage to get Conan to kill the Seers.

Conan, in the meantime, sneaks in and captures Yasmina to exchange her life for his men’s. At the same time, Khemsa, a sorcerer of the Black Seers who was cursing the king, is convinced by his love that he should strike out on his own. Another player in the story is Kerim Shah, an agent of King Yezdigerd of Turan, who had enlisted the Black Seers aids to kill the king of Vendhya. Things get complicated and exciting as they all ride a bloody swathe toward the climax.

The Slithering Shadow. First published in Weird Tales (September 1933) as “Xuthal of the Dusk.” Republished in The Sword of Conan (Gnome Press, 1952). The Conan Chronicles Volume 1: The People of the Black Circle (Gollancz, 2000) as “The Slithering Shadow” and in Conan of Cimmeria: Volume One (1932-1933) (Del Rey, 2003) under its original title, “Xuthal of the Dusk.” It was adapted in Savage Sword of Conan #20.

Conan and his female companion Natala are the sole survivors of Prince Amuric’s army and are out alone in the desert. They come across a city and enter. The guard is dead, but as they pass, he comes to life and attacks, forcing Conan to kill him. The two soon learn that the inhabitants of the city, who seem dead, are in fact, under the influence of a narcotic that puts them in a death-like trance, all the while they are stalked by an ancient demon that kills the city-dwellers one by one. And now, its stalking Conan and his companion. Another rousing episode in the Conan saga by REH.

Drums of Tombalku. This story comes from an unfinished fragment and synopsis that L. Sprague de Camp finished and it was published in this anthology for the first time. It was reprinted in The Conan Chronicles Volume 1: The People of the Black Circle (Gollancz, 2000) and Conan of Cimmeria: Volume Two (1934) (Del Rey, 2005). It was adapted in Savage Sword of Conan #204.

The story focuses on a character known as Amalric and a woman from the city of Gazal named Lissa. She had run away from the city and was captured by some desert men who Amalric was with. The men fight over the girl and Amalric comes out on top. He helps her return to her city in the desert that he never heard of before. The city is crumbling, the people in some sort of trance and the only structure untouched by time is a red citadel that Lissa says contains whatever it is that is killing off her people. (Sound familiar? Didn’t we just read this in “The Slithering Shadow?”) Amalric decides to flee the city again, but Lissa is taken by the creature, Amalric ends up killing it. As they flee, seven black demonic horsemen chase them, but out of nowhere, Conan arrives. And that’s when things get interesting as Conan, Lissa, and Amalric become involved in tribal wars, witch doctors, and accusations of having killed a god. As a non-Howard story, it isn’t bad.

The Pool of the Black One. First published in Weird Tales (October 1933), a month after “A Slithering Shadow.” Reprinted in The Sword of Conan (Gnome Press, 1952), The Conan Chronicles Volume 1: The People of the Black Circle (2000) and Conan of Cimmeria: Volume One (1932-1933) (Del Rey, 2003).

Conan rises from the sea and boards the Wastrel, which is in the middle of nowhere, to the shock of the crew. He works his way into the Zingarans’ trust. Soon, the ship anchors offshore of a mysterious island. The crew goes ashore and is soon eating native fruit. The captain disappears into the woods, followed by Conan, who confronts the captain and kills him. But then, Conan sees a large black shadow carrying a white figure through the forest and Conan gives pursuit. He soon finds a green fortress inhabited by a group of black giants, who have captured one of the crew. One of the giants dips the sailor he captured into a green pool, but Conan has to duck down to avoid revealing himself and doesn’t see what happens to the sailor. The large inhuman creatures leave and Conan investigates but can’t find the body of the sailor, not even in the pool. But then he sees a shelf that has dozens of tiny carved figurines that look unnaturally real. He is shocked to see that one of them resembled the sailor. The giants, in the meantime, have captured all the sailors, now unconscious from the fruit, and are returning to their fortress with them, and it’s up to Conan to save them.

I can’t repeat enough how much Conan the Adventurer impacted my life. It took a teenager with absolutely no interest in reading and turned them into a voracious reader, one who couldn’t get enough after reading this book. There was something magical about this book from the cover art by Frazetta to the amazing sword and sorcery stories by Robert E. Howard. Much thanks has to go out to L. Sprague de Camp, without whose work both editing and digging into Howard’s papers to find unpublished stories and fragments, this collection of books might never have come to fruition. Without this collection, its easy to think that Howard and Conan might have just slipped into the vast bottomless pit of forgotten pulps stories.

Next up, the sixth book in the series, Conan the Buccaneer, which despite having a great Frazetta cover, has absolutely nothing written by Howard.

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Lancer/Ace Conan of Cimmeria: Rereading and Reminiscence

When people think of sword and sorcery, the first think that pops into their head are the tales of Conan the barbarian from the Northern wastelands known as Cimmeria, as originally written by Robert E. Howard.

But it is possible that those stories might have faded into the distant past as the majority of stories did that were published back in the halycon days of pulp fiction had it not been for the diligent investigations of L. Sprague de Camp. Howard’s legacy had been passed on from his father, who continued to work with REH’s literary agent after Howard’s death. But then things got convoluted and confusing. Dr. Howard passed the rights onto a friend, who passed them on to his wife and daughter. From there they ended up with a cousin’s widow, who passed them on to her children. Today, the rights are allegedly held by a Swedish Company, Paradox Entertainment Inc., although questions of copyright renewal arise.

But the point is, had it not been for the de Camp ferreting out Howard’s Conan stories, editing them, rewriting others, and publishing them in fiction magazines and in book collections in the 1950s, today when we speak of Conan, we might all just think of the late night talk show and not our beloved sword swinging barbarian.

As I’ve mentioned previously, I’m working my way through the Lancer/Ace Conan series of books that were released in the late 1960s and 1970s and blogging about each. I’ve finished the second book in the Lancer/Ace collection of Conan printed in the late 1960s and 1970s, Conan of Cimmeria.

First, here’s the book’s cover, illustrated by Frank Frazetta. This is one of my favorite illustrations of Conan by Frazetta. I had a reproduction of it on my wall back when I was a teen and first reading this series. Not sure what ever happened to it. Looking at it now, I think I’d like to purchase another, frame it, and put it in my library.

Frank Frazetta

The Snow Giants by Frank Frazetta

The piece is titled, “The Snow Giants,” and also was used as the cover for the American rock band, Dust on their second album release, “Hard Attack.”

Conan of Cimmeria (1969) (by Robert E. Howard, L. Sprague de Camp, and Lin Carter)
Contents
“Introduction” (L. Sprague de Camp)
“The Curse of the Monolith” (L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter)
“The Blood-Stained God” (Robert E. Howard and L. Sprague de Camp)
“The Frost Giant’s Daughter” (Robert E. Howard, edited by L. Sprague de Camp)
“The Lair of the Ice Worm” (L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter)
“Queen of the Black Coast” (Robert E. Howard)
“The Vale of Lost Women” (Robert E. Howard)
“The Castle of Terror” (L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter)
“The Snout in the Dark” (Robert E. Howard, L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter)

Introduction. A brief essay on Howard and his writings on Conan and his creation of The Hyborian Age, an essay on the prehistory of Conan’s world.

The Curse of the Monolith. First publication was in Worlds of Fantasy Vol. 1, No. 1 in 1968 as “Conan and the Cenotaph” Later publication: Warlocks and Warriors anthology (Mayflower, 1971, ed. Douglas Hill) and The Conan Chronicles (Sphere Books, 1989). The story was also adapted in Marvel’s black and white graphic magazine, The Savage Sword of Conan #33, scripted by Roy Thomas, penciled by Gene Colan, and inked by Pablos Marcos.

A non-Howard story. Conan is a Captain in the Turanian army on a diplomatic mission to Kusan. Returning, Duke Feng, a high noble of the court of Kusan, takes Conan into his confidence: there is an ancient, hidden treasure in a king’s tomb only he knows the whereabouts of. Conan agrees to help him and at the Duke’s behest because of all the dangers, dons all his armor. When they arrive at a tall stone monolith and all the metal digging tools are snatched from Conan’s grip and quickly he becomes ensnared in the unseen magnetic force until he too is stuck fast to the stone. Feng plays a weird tune on a pipe and an amoeba-like creature materializes at the top, slowly oozing it’s way down to devour Conan. As a de Camp/Carter story, it isn’t bad and has enough of a Howardian feel to it that it fits in just fine.

The Blood-Stained God. This is from an unpublished story by Howard, found and rewritten by de Camp, called “The Trail of the Blood-Stained God” that was set in modern Afghanistan featuring another Howard character, Kirby O’Donnell. In rewritten form, as a Conan tale, it was first published in 1955 collection Tales of Conan (Gnome Press, 1955).

The story concerns Conan seeking out the people who stole a treasure map from him. He comes upon a Kezankian prisoner being tortured and intervenes. In the process he is knocked unconscious but awakens in the company of an Iranistan named Sassan. They agree to become partners, until such time as it’s convenient that one kills the other, to find the treasure in an ancient, hidden temple in the mountains. As a modern middle eastern story crammed to fit into the Conan mold, it isn’t badly done, and in fact, has an interesting middle eastern flavor to it that, I’m guessing, de Camp couldn’t completely eliminate without totally rewriting the entire story. My only issue with the story is the supernatural element, which is a statue of a god coming to life and just sort of smacks of the story, “The City of Skulls” from the first book in this series, Conan.

The Frost Giant’s Daughter. An REH story that was rejected Weird Tales. Howard rewrote it, changed the character from Conan to Amra of Akbitana and retitled it, “The Frost King’s Daughter.” It was published in the March 1934 issue of The Fantasy Fan under the title, “Gods of the North.” L. Sprague de Camp found the story and rewrote it. The new version was published in the August 1953 issue of Fantasy Fiction. It was also published in The Coming of Conan (Gnome Press, 1953). Later publications were in The Conan Chronicles Volume 1: The People of the Black Circle (Gollancz, 2000) and Conan of Cimmeria: Volume One (1932-1933) (Del Rey, 2003). The story was also adapted by Marvel in Conan the Barbarian #16 by Roy Thomas and Barry Smith.

Conan is on a battlefield facing the last Vanir. Conan defeats him but is exhausted and collapses. He is surprised to hear a woman’s laugh and he sees a beautiful, nearly naked woman. She taunts him and he rises to give pursuit. She dances just out of his reach as they travel miles toward the mountains, until she leads him into a trap set by her two frost giant brothers. (See cover illustration.) I’ve always enjoyed this story in the various incarnations of it I’ve read. I think its the dream-like quality of the story that even Conan isn’t sure any of it happened. In the end, he’s found half-frozen in the snow by his comrades who do their best to thaw him out as he tells his story. They disbelieve him until they manage to open his hand and find a gossamer raiment from the girl.

Conan the Barbarian #16

Conan the Barbarian #16


Conan the Barbarian #16, July 1972, cover by Barry Smith

The Lair of the Ice Worm. This De Camp/Carter stories appears in print here for the first time. It is later republished in The Conan Chronicles (Sphere Books, 1989). I think the term “filler” is fitting here. It is a forgettable story and is thrown in simply to show what a 23-year-old Conan did between the previous story and the next.

Queen of the Black Coast. This story first appeared in the May 1934 issue of Weird Tales. It was reprinted in Avon Fantasy Reader No. 8, 1948, and The Coming of Conan (Gnome Press, 1953). Later publications were in Sword & Sorcery annual (Ziff-Davis, 1975), The Conan Chronicles Volume 1: The People of the Black Circle (Gollancz, 2000) and Conan of Cimmeria: Volume One (1932-1933) (Del Rey, 2003). It has also been adapted by Marvel in Conan the Barbarian, with a story arc about Bêlit introduced in issue #57 and continued until #100. Most recently, it is the basis for three issue story presented in Dark Horse Comics’ Conan the Barbarian #10 – #12.

Bêlit! This is as classic a Howardian epic as there is. The ship Conan has hitched a ride upon is beset by pirates. Conan, the only real warrior on the ship and the only one wearing armour, is the sole survivor, and he battles the pirates like a living hurricane, until:

Befit sprang before the blacks, beating down their spears. She turned toward Conan, her bosom heaving, her eyes flashing. Fierce fingers of wonder caught at his heart. She was slender, yet formed like a goddess: at once lithe and voluptuous. Her only garment was a broad silken girdle. Her white ivory limbs and the ivory globes of her breasts drove a beat of fierce passion through the Cimmerian’s pulse, even in the panting fury of battle. Her rich black hair, black as a Stygian night, fell in rippling burnished clusters down her supple back. Her dark eyes burned on the Cimmerian.

Conan meets Bêlit the pirate and it’s love at first site. If you want to read it now, it’s available for free at Gutenberg Project. And lest I forget a chance to rip on the 1982 schlockfest known as Conan the Barbarian starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. That movie took a small piece of this story and incorporated it rather poorly (Warning: SPOILER): the idea where Bêlit dies, promising to return to protect Conan in time of need. It was an embarrassing scene with Sandahl Bergman all silver, sparkly, and silly, saying, “Do you want to live forever?” Well, yes, if dying means I have to dress like that. Adapting “Queen of the Black Coast” as written would make a glorious movie, but as usual, Hollywood thinks they can write better than Howard and just pick and choose concepts instead of adapting stories whole cloth.

The Vale of Lost Women. An original Howard story that was published posthumously for the first time first published in The Magazine of Horror, No. 15, Spring, 1967. Later publication came in The Conan Chronicles Volume 1: The People of the Black Circle (Gollancz, 2000) and Conan of Cimmeria: Volume One (1932-1933) (Del Rey, 2003). It was adapted by Marvel Comics in Conan the Barbarian #104.

More of Howard’s wonderful prose, but although this is a Conan story, it’s told from the point of view of Livia, a woman held prisoner by a Bakalah jungle tribe. Enter Conan, who is chieftain of a rival tribe at this point. Livia sneaks out of her tent (not much of a prisoner) and enlists Conan’s aid to free her, promising if he kills the king, he can have his way with her. Conan agrees and the next day his warriors launch their attack. Livia, not wanting to be ravished, escapes in the confusion, but ends up lost and wanders into an ancient valley that legend says is filled with ghost women. It is and they capture her to sacrifice to their giant bat-god. Will Conan save her?

The Castle of Terror. Another de Camp/Carter Conan pastiche that appears here for the first time and is reprinted in the The Conan Chronicles (Sphere Books, 1989).

Another filler piece that is part “The Thing in the Crypt” and part “The Vale of Lost Women” in that here Conan is traveling across the plains, being pursued by lions this time instead of wolves, and he comes upon an ancient citadel this time instead of a rock cave, that is filled by male spirits this time instead of female. Anyway, the spirits are energy suckers, but they’ve been starved for so long, they can’t suck Conan’s energy. So they start to coagulate into one monstrous spirit being while Conan sleeps just as a group of Stygian slave traders enters to escape the rains. The spirit monster is attracted to them because there is more “food” upon which to eat. The monster made up of hundreds of heads, arms, and legs, attacks and in the confusion, Conan makes his escape.

The Snout in the Dark. This story was rewritten by de Camp/Carter from an outline and the first half of a rough draft started by Howard. It is published here for the first time and later reprinted The Conan Chronicles Volume 1: The People of the Black Circle (Gollancz, 2000) and Conan of Cimmeria: Volume One (1932-1933) (Del Rey, 2003).

It’s a story of political intrigue and murder that takes place in Kush within the walled city of Shumballa. The city is inhabited by the Gallahs, but ruled by arristocratic rulers called Chagas. The Queen is Tanada, but a noble, Tuthmes, wants the thrown. So he plots to overthrow her using a wizard who uses a pig-like demon that can materialize out of thin air. The queen has thrown Amboola, a person loved by the Gallahs into prison. Tuthmes kills him using the demon, then blames Tanada for his death. While Tanada is out riding in the city, the angered Gallahs attack. Just as Conan appears, who saves her life and is rewarded by becoming her Captain of the Guard and lover. In the end he thwarts Tuthmes plans but the Gallahs rise up and kill all the Chagas and Conan is on the road again.

All in all, Conan of Cimmeria was a fun read, pastiches and all. If you enjoy Conan no matter what, it might be fun to seek these books out. They’re available online inexpensively (unless you’re looking for first editions) from various used book outlets and to me, with the Frazetta covers, they make a fine addition to anyone’s Conan collection.

Otherwise, if you just want your Conan as written by Howard, the Del Rey additions of The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian, The Conquering sword of Conan, and The Bloody Crown of Conan are mandatory. They present every Conan story as it was originally written, plus all of the fragments and outlines Howard wrote on his famed barbarian. Well worth seeking out.

So, until I finish Conan the Freebooter, remember: To crush your enemies — See them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of their women! (Which, not surprisingly, is actually a quote that Conan the Barbarian movie lifted from Harold Lamb’s book, Genghis Khan: The Emperor of All Men.)

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Lancer/Ace Conan
Lancer/Ace Conan of Cimmeria
Conan the Freebooter

Lancer/Ace Conan: Rereading and Reminiscence

As I said in my previous blog outings, I planned on reading each of the original 12 Lancer/Ace Conan paperbacks and then blog my experience. So, surprise! I finished the Lancer/Ace Conan.

Frank Frazetta cover

Frank Frazetta cover

Conan is the first book in the Lancer/Ace Conan series as edited by L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter. “But wait! The cover says ‘Volume Five!’” Yes it does and good catch. The first book published in this series was actually Conan the Adventurer. Conan is the first book in the chronological order as set forth by de Camp and Carter, but the fifth book published. Confused? Good. Me too. But first some particulars:

Conan copyright 1967, first published 1968 (Wiki says it was actually published in 1967, but who are you going to believe?)

Contents

“Introduction” (L. Sprague de Camp)
“Letter from Robert E. Howard to P. Schuyler Miller” (Robert E. Howard)
“The Hyborian Age, Part 1” (Robert E. Howard)
“The Thing in the Crypt” (L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter)
“The Tower of the Elephant” (Robert E. Howard)
“The Hall of the Dead” (Robert E. Howard and L. Sprague de Camp)
“The God in the Bowl” (Robert E. Howard)
“Rogues in the House” (Robert E. Howard)
“The Hand of Nergal” (Robert E. Howard and Lin Carter)
“The City of Skulls” (L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter)

First, take a long gander at that Frank Frazetta cover. He’s the reason many of us picked up the book in the first place. I was wowed by his art then, and I’m still a huge fan. He was the master and to me, everyone else is just paying homage to him.

Introduction. Conan starts out with an intro by de Camp that gives a brief bio on Robert E. Howard and a short history of sword and sorcery. It’s a short, but interesting read.

Letter From Robert E. Howard to P. Schuyler Miller. The Letter is written by REH himself and is to P. Schuyler Miller, a science fiction writer of the day (Miller also, oddly enough, completes the circle as he also collaborated with L. Sprague de Camp, on the novel Genus Homo, de Camp’s first work of fiction). Miller, along with Dr. John D. Clark, another sci-fi writer, had contacted REH concerning the chronological order in which they thought the Conan stories should be sorted (Howard published the Conan tales without regard to Conan’s age, jumping from a seasoned warrior back to a youth and back again). This letter is much the basis for the order that de Camp and Carter eventually put the Conan stories when they started to create the series of books, with stories of their own to fill the holes. This letter was originally published in the 1953 Gnome Press The Coming of Conan.

The Hyborian Age is, as any Howardian should know, is Howard’s own historical essay on the times surrounding Conan’s life. This is Part 1 of that essay. Part 2 appears in Conan the Avenger, the tenth book in the series. If nothing else, the essay shows the detail that Howard put into the creation of Conan and his world. This was originally published in parts in several issues of The Phantagraph in 1936. It was later printed in Skull-Face and Others, a collection of short stories put out by Arkham House in 1946; in The Coming of Conan (with revisions by John D. Clark); and in King Kull, by Robert E. Howard and Lin Carter and published by Lancer in 1967.

And now, we get to the meat of the collection, the actual Conan stories.

The Thing in the Crypt. When I read this collection the first time, I didn’t really pay attention to who wrote what. I assumed, wrongly as it turns out, that REH wrote the majority of the works and de Camp and Carter were merely editors, doing whatever magic it is editors do. But I was wrong. And this is where the Howardian purists get their panties in a bunch. This very first story, the one that introduces us, more or less, to a teenaged Conan, was nothing more than fill written by de Camp and Carter to complete what they perceived to be a blank spot in Howard’s Conan history. For years now, I thought this story was written by Howard himself and only now, reading it this time, have I learned the truth. And what is the truth? That it isn’t a bad story. It stayed with me for 40 years. There must be something special about it. Part of this story, where Conan is running in the frozen wilderness in an attempt to escape a pack of wolves and climbs into a cave, which turns out to be the crypt of some ancient king, was brought to life in the 1982 Arnold Schwarzenegger movie, Conan the Barbarian. However, one of the reasons I dislike that movie so much is it stopped just when the short story gets good. If you remember, in the movie, he takes the sword from the skeletal hand of the king and swings it around. Then the hand moves. But instead of the king coming to life and battling Conan, which would have added a wonderful element of supernatural horror to the movie, the king’s skull just rolls onto the floor and Ah-nold said, “Crom,” with as much emotion as if he were saying, “Eggs.” Do yourself a favor and read the short story and forget the movie. This story was later reprinted in The Conan Chronicles (Sphere Books, 1989).

The Tower of the Elephant. Finally, we get to a true REH story. Maybe de Camp and Carter have edited, maybe not. I’m not about to compare it to other versions I own just to point a finger at them like others do. Instead, I’ll just say, Howard does a great job portraying Conan, new to civilization and it’s strange ways, as an inexperienced youth wanting to fit in, yet quick to react to perceived slights. To prove his mettle, Conan goes to rob the Tower of the Elephant, despite warnings of strange guardians and an even stranger wizard. To go back to the movie, they condensed this whole story into a mere shell by having them scale a tower where Ah-nold ends up killing a snake worshiped by Thulsa-Doom’s followers. Forget for a moment that Howard created Thulsa-Doom as an antagonist to KULL, not Conan (can you tell I loathe that movie?), they gutted all the best of this story, removing all Howard’s supernatural elements, all the surprise, all the horror and wonder and replaced it all with pretty much nothing. If you want to see a good interpretation of it, find a copy of Marvel’s Conan the Barbarian #4 (April 1971). Barry Smith does a good job illustrating the tale. This story was originally published in the March 1933 issue of Weird Tales. It was later reprinted in Skull-Face and Others and The Coming of Conan. It has since been reprinted in The Tower of the Elephant (Donald M. Grant, Publisher, Inc., 1975), The Conan Chronicles (Sphere Books, 1989), The Conan Chronicles Volume 1: The People of the Black Circle (Gollancz, 2000), and Conan of Cimmeria (Del Rey, 2003)

The Hall of the Dead. According to the copyright page, was written by de Camp from an outline found among Howard’s papers in 1966 by Glenn Lord, a Howard scholar and his literary agent. Now lets get this out of the way, L. Sprague de Camp was no slouch when it came to writing. He wasn’t handed the reins to Howard’s Conan legacy based on his looks. The man had chops. And he didn’t take up the Howard mantle lightly. He studied. He became a scholar of Howard. He did more for Howard’s legacy than all of de Camp’s detractors combined. And he was one of the Big Names of the Golden Age of Science Fiction, creating nearly 100 books and countless short stories. This story is about Conan being pursued by mercenaries promised a reward by merchants Conan had robbed. Only one of them survives to follow Conan into an ancient, deserted city, where they run into… something. Originally published in the February 1967 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. It has more recently been reprinted in The Conan Chronicles (Sphere Books, 1989) and in its original form in The Conan Chronicles Volume 1: The People of the Black Circle (Gollancz, 2000) and Conan of Cimmeria (Del Rey, 2003)

The God in the Bowl. Another original Howard tale. Classic Conan, caught thieving by a guard, he gets caught up in the murder of the owner of the warehouse, until others die mysteriously. This story was loosely adapted in Marvel’s Conan the Barbarian #7 (July 1971) as illustrated by Barry Smith under the title, “The Lurker Within!” Originally rejected by Weird Tales, it was rediscovered and edited by de Camp and published in the September 1952 issue of Space Science Fiction and reprinted in The Coming of Conan. More recent reprints have removed the de Camp edits and it was published in the collections The Conan Chronicles Volume 1: The People of the Black Circle and Conan of Cimmeria.

Rogues in the House. An original Howard story that was published in the January 1934 issue of Weird Tales. This is the story the cover art is based on. Conan is thrown in jail. A young nobleman, Murilo, visits him with an offer to slay a political opponent for him, Nabonidus, the Red Priest. In exchange, he’ll make sure Conan gets out of town. Murilo’s plans go awry when the guard who was supposed to assist Conan is arrested, but the ever-resourceful Cimmerian is able to free himself. In the meantime, Murilo decides he has to kill the Red Priest himself and slips into his compound. Conan, of course, could leave, not being bound to his promise to Murilo, but he has a code of conduct, crude as it may be, and he heads over to the Red Priest’s place also. This story, also, was very well interpreted by Barry Smith in Marvel’s Conan the Barbarian #11 (November 1971). The story was reprinted in Terror by Night, an anthology edited by Christine Campbell Thomson and published by Selwyn and Blount in 1934; Skull-Face and Others, The Coming of Conan, and More Not at Night, edited by Christine Campbell Thomson and published by Arrow Books in 1961. More recently it was reprinted in Rogues in the House (Donald M. Grant, Publisher, Inc., 1976); The Conan Chronicles (Sphere Books, 1989); The Conan Chronicles, Volume 1: The People of the Black Circle; and Conan of Cimmeria.

The Hand of Nergal. This story was finished by Lin Carter from a fragment Howard had started. Conan is a mercenary, who has found a mysterious golden talisman. Long after the battle, he finds himself alone and runs into a young girl who bids he return with her to meet her master. Curious, Conan follows. He meets a group of men who are all cursed by the local wizard. They tell him a tale of the Hand of Nergal and how the wizard wields it to get his way, but Conan has found the Heart of Tammuz, which they believe will protect him. Will he help them to assassinate the wizard. Sure, what the heck. Unfortunately, the Heart doesn’t protect Conan, and you have to read the rest of the story to find out what happens. This was the first time this story appeared in print, but it was reprinted several times after. In The Conan Chronicles by Sphere Books in 1989 and Beyond the Gates of Dream by Belmont Books in 1969. The original fragment was published in The Conan Chronicles: Volume 1: The People of the Black Circle by Gollancz in 2000 and Conan Of Cimmeria by Del Rey in 2003.

The City of Skulls. The first book ends as it began, with an original Carter and de Camp non-Howardian story. Conan, once again is a mercenary, along with his Kushite friend Juma, assigned to escort the king’s daughter, Zosara, to her wedding. They are attacked by warriors and all the Turanians are killed except for Conan, Juma, and Zosara. They are taken to Shamballah, the City of Skulls, where they are brought before the king, who the people worship as the reincarnated son of their god. Conan and Juma are sentenced to a life of slavery. They escape and return to attempt a rescue of Zosara. This is the story’s first published appearance and is only reprinted in The Conan Chronicles (Sphere Books, 1989).

As I’ve said, it’s been 40 years since I read these stories (although I’ve read REH in other forms) and truth to tell, I really enjoyed this book. Maybe it’s part nostalgia on my part, I’ll admit, but something about these stories recaptured whatever it is they captured when I was a teen. I feel inspired.

For many of my generation, these were the books that not only introduced Howard’s greatest creation to us, but defined him as well. And I think it bears mentioning again, it wasn’t just the stories, it was the packaging with the Frank Frazetta cover as well. It is quite possible that without the Lancer/Ace releases of Conan, the Cimmerian might have slipped into the mists of forgotten literary heroes. How many other pulp heroes are, today, completely forgotten? How many authors? I know it’s hard to conceive that someone of Howard’s talent or his massive catalog of stories could have simply faded away, but we don’t need to worry about that. We can just be thankful for whatever circumstances in the late 1950s and early 1960s led to the popularization of sword and sorcery and the success of these Howard reprints and made the fantasy world a better place.

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Lancer/Ace Conan
Lancer/Ace Conan of Cimmeria
Conan the Freebooter

The Coming of Conan the Collection

My bookshelves were overflowing and we had guests coming for Christmas. So I started stacking books with the intent of putting them into some semblance of order, maybe by genre, alphabetically by author, or something like that, when I came upon several books about Conan, the Robert E. Howard barbarian.

For those who don’t know, and if you don’t you should, Robert E. Howard is to heroic fantasy what J.R.R. Tolkien is to epic fantasy. Epic fantasy was, well, epic, dealing with themes of global struggle, usually involving a quest, a great evil, and a large cast of supporting characters. Tolkien influenced many followers, authors such as Terry Brooks, Robert Jordan, and Stephen R. Donaldson, to name a few.

On the other hand, heroic fantasy (sometimes called sword and sorcery) deals, generally, with the swashbuckling adventures of a single character facing violent conflicts with the dangers being more personal than world-threatening. REH excelled at bold tales of larger-than-life characters and not just with his most famous creation, Conan, but with many other daring characters such as Kull, Bran Mak Morn, Solomon Kane, and Turlogh Dubh O’Brien.

REH, like Tolkien, influenced generations of writers of heroic fantasy, such as Michael Moorcock, Fritz Leiber, Lin Carter, L Sprague de Camp, and John Jakes.

Back to my bookshelves. I found several books from the Lancer/Ace series of Conan. There have been a few editions of the Conan stories published over the years. The first were the Gnome Press versions that were published in the 1950s. That collection consisted of seven volumes of Conan, written largely by Howard, but with additional stories by L Sprague de Camp and Björn Nyberg.

Then, starting in about 1966, Lancer under the direction of L Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter, began to republish the Conan stories. What made these unique (and in some minds an abomination) was that the stories were arranged in chronological order starting with a youthful Conan and ending with an aging one.

The original series begun by Lancer until it went out of business, and finished by Ace Books, consisted of twelve books. Since then, more books were added to the series mostly written by de Camp, Carter, and Björn Nyberg.

More recently, Del Rey between 2003 and 2005, put out a three volume set of Conan consisting of all the original unedited Howard stories in the order in which they were first published. Del Rey also continued to publish all of Howard’s stories in several other volumes.

But again, back to my bookshelves and the Lancer/Ace books. This series, heavily edited by De Camp and Carter, with additional new material to round out the series, followed Conan from his teenage years until his grizzled elder years. Oddly enough, however, the books were not published in that order, and only later were they numbered in chronological order.

The first book published was Conan the Adventurer. It featured a cover by Frank Frazetta. The artwork as much as the material inside were responsible for the resurgence of interest in Robert E Howard and his Conan character. This novel was the first I discovered as a teenager and it quite figuratively blew me away. Up until then, I wasn’t much of a reader outside of the minimum I needed to do for school.

But this book of Conan’s adventures amazed me, stunned me. I had no idea these kinds of stories existed. After finishing this I was hooked. Hooked on Conan. Hooked on REH. Hooked on sword and sorcery. Hooked on reading. And I went on to read the rest of the Lancer/Ace series. Then I expanded to those who followed in Howard’s footsteps, and read about Elric, Brak the barbarian, Thongor, Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser…

But again, back to my bookshelves. I thought I had the entire Lancer/Ace set, but as I was perusing it that day, I realized I was missing two books. (So I searched for them and found the pair online and I’m now eagerly awaiting their arrival).

And as I looked through them, admired the beautiful Frank Frazetta art, I was taken back to those days as a teen, as I devoured these books cover to cover and was transported to the Hyborian Age. As I said, these books inspired me to read, but more than that, these books inspired me to write. I began writing shortly after reading the very first book what might be termed fanfic, except that term didn’t exist back then. I wrote several stories about a character I had named after Conan’s pseudonym, Amra. These were turned to high school English and since have been lost to the ravages of time. But I also started writing stories on origianl characters and these I submitted to real fiction magazines and began to garner an impressive collection of rejection slips.

And feeling nostalgic, I was seized by the desire to reread these books I hadn’t read in nearly 40 years. Not to say I haven’t read Howard since then. I have at least nine of the Del Rey Howard library and I’ve read through much of it, especially the Conan stories. But I wanted to reread these particular stories because these are the ones that set me on the path upon which I stand today.

But this time, instead of reading them out of order, I will read them as L Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter intended them to be read. Starting with the first book, Conan, and continuing until I’ve finished the entire collection.

And maybe, as I read them, I’ll blog my impressions on each.

Until then, “Know, oh prince, that between the years when the oceans drank Atlantis and the gleaming cities, and the years of the rise of the Sons of Aryas, there was an Age undreamed of, when shining kingdoms lay spread across the world like blue mantles beneath the stars.”

And, not surprisingly, I never did get my bookshelves in order before company arrived.

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Short Story Saturday – A look back

My last post was about an early cover letter I sent to Weird Tales. This time around I thought it would be fun to publish one of my very early short stories. This story was most likely the third or fourth story I ever wrote. It was the first that wasn’t written in second person (a writing style I learned from reading a lot of early Marvel horror comics). So I’ll go out on a limb and say this was my first attempt at third person.

This story was published in my high school literary magazine, John Marshall High School’s Chrysalis. I think the year was 1973.

I’m not sure I’ve ever posted it before. If I have, I apologize. Unless you really liked it, then I have this paypal account, see, and you can… um, nevermind.

Anyway here, in all it’s 400 word glory, is:

The Odd Couple

Deep in the heart of an unknown swamp in the darkest Africa lay the bones of a French airplane pilot, killed when his single-engine plane crashed. His bones had lain among the weeds for over ten years. Mud had covered them and moss and weeds grew in the mud. Then one day the bones quivered and rose.

For a few minutes the bizarre creature of mud and moss stood on its unsteady legs before taking its first steps, and when it did, it fell flat on his ‘face’!

For hours it lay there unmoving until again it rose and started forward. This time more surely. Through the swamp and out into the surrounding jungle this parody of life moved. Suddenly, a movement above its head caused the creature to look up and see a giant boa constrictor swinging from the tree down toward him. Before the swamp-creature could move it was in the crushing coils of the deadly snake. It felt no pain but it was aware of the hostile feelings the snake had for him; so without a moment’s hesitation the moss-thing took the boa in its hands and tore it in two without any effort whatsoever! Throwing the dead snake from itself, it continued on northward.

Far in the Sahara desert some archeologists opened the sarcophagus of Princess Ama-Sethara and ran from the tomb screaming while close on their heels came the Egyptian princess. One stumbled and fell; before he could rise, she was upon him. Holding him in two arms as easily as if he were a new-born babe, she tore his head from his shoulders. Taking the bloody head in her hand she hurled it at another explorer, cracking his skull wide open. He fell, stone dead.

She chased the remaining archeologists on across the desert and not one escaped alive. Princess Ama-Sethara soon came upon a native village where she caused much havoc, setting it on fire after killing the sleeping inhabitants.

On she went southward leaving a trail of death and decay behind her, while coming northward, leaving an identical trail, was the moss-thing. Soon they both came to a vacated village and seeing each other, they attacked.

Rending and tearing they battled each other until they stopped simultaneously and looked each other in the eye. From the moss-thing’s throat came one word, “Mummy!” and from the Princess’s mouth came one word, “Fodder!”

And then they embraced.

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A peek into the past of a beginning writer

I found this while looking through some old, and I do mean old, papers.

So here is a genuine cover letter I sent to “Weird Tales,” typos and all.

April 3, 1973

WEIRD TALES
Sam Moskovitz, Editor
8230 Beveryly Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90045

Dear Mr. Moskovitz,

This letter which accompanies my heroic fantsy story
does not try to persuade nor to dissuade you to like it.
In truth this letter is just to tell you of me, the writer.

I am fifteen (I’ll be sixteen in June of this year) and
in the tenth grade. I don’t have a job (yet) and I write
for pleasure. But of late I’ve been submitting. So far no
story of mine has been published (unless you count a school
magazine and a fan page in Eerie #46).

My favorite writers are Robert E. Howard and Edgar Rice
Burroughs. My hobby is collecting all their stories. (The
ones published in the pulps as well as the current books.)
I’m also tryin to collect all the old Weird Tales but they
are almost impossible to get. My favorite current writers
are Lin Carter and John Jakes.

O-kay. Now you know all about me, or at least some.
Now you can start reading my story (if you want, I’m not
forcing you. Besides how could I? I’m almost half a
continent away. I think.)

The story is about a Conan-type hero named Toran.

Happy reading!

Of course, the response was a form rejection slip, but they were nice enough to hand write “Sorry but–as a quarterly, four times a year, using only one or two NEW stories each issue, we are frankly not in the market at present.”

Hope you enjoyed this blast from my past.

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