I've been dipping into this short story collection for about two years, and I've finally finished it. Howard is definitely one of my literary heroes,...moreI've been dipping into this short story collection for about two years, and I've finally finished it. Howard is definitely one of my literary heroes, mainly for 1) his ability to effortlessly create iconic, primal characters, 2) his talent for painting pictures with words, and 3) his use of an underlying philosophy that informs all his fiction without ever becoming preachy. Namely: that civilization is an aberration, and savagery is the natural state of mankind.
Some of these stories were so familiar from comic book adaptations (both Marvel's and Dark Horse's) that I felt as though I was re-reading them even though I hadn't before. Favorite story in this collection: "Black Colossus," since it's one that actually allows for growth in Conan's character (he goes from being a hired thug to a general with responsibility for lives other than his own) and it has one of the best battle scenes ever put to pen in a fantasy story.(less)
"I am tired, Gray Mouser, of these little brushes with Death," Fafhrd the Northerner said, lifting his dinted, livid goblet and taking a measured sup...more"I am tired, Gray Mouser, of these little brushes with Death," Fafhrd the Northerner said, lifting his dinted, livid goblet and taking a measured sup of sweet ferment of grape laced with bitter brandy.
"Want a big one?" his comrade scoffed, drinking likewise.
Fafhrd considered that...
(from "The Frost Monstreme")
Two books in one, so:
SWORDS OF LANKHMAR The only actual novel in the Fafhrd & Gray Mouser series, in which the city of Lankhmar is threatened by invasion from an overwhelming army - its own rats! The Mouser may have the power to save the city, but he'll only bother if he can impress the Overlord while doing so.
SWORDS AND ICE MAGIC The stories here fall into two groups: First, a series of bouts with Death, who comes across as a beurocratic Wile E. Coyote in his attempts to snuff out the two heroes. Second, an extended "Icelandic" saga in which Fafhrd & Mouser thwart the ambitions of an evil wizard, a barbarian horde, and the gods Odin and Loki, all in such an irreverent way as to make Tolkien spin in his grave.
If there were any justice in the world, Lieber would be a lot more well-known and well-read than he is. Highly, highly recommended.(less)
The second of the Conan anthologies presents Howard at the peak of his craft, featuring some of his long-form work in a novella, a single short story,...moreThe second of the Conan anthologies presents Howard at the peak of his craft, featuring some of his long-form work in a novella, a single short story, and Howard's only completed novel. While Howard didn't write the Conan stories in anything like chronological order, the barbarian of these adventures is clearly older, cannier, and more wise to the world than the young, thieving slayer of his earlier tales. The opening and closing stories of this edition feature Conan as a war-chief of various mid/far east nations (blatant analogues of Persia, Afghanistan, and India) where the hero is honing is skills not just as a mercenary but as a leader of men.
The showpiece, though, is The Hour of the Dragon, the perfect King Conan movie that we're never going to see - in which Conan is deposed from the throne of Aquilonia by a resurrected wizard from Acheron and must travel far and wide to gather the allies and magical defenses he will need to reclaim his kingdom. Not only is it evident that Howard was more comfortable with his writing and his character, but also with the breadth of mythology he'd created. Few, if any, of the Conan short stories make reference to any of the others, yet in Hour of the Dragon you can feel Howard dipping into the rich history he'd already established for the character as Conan, now in middle-age, returns to many of the places he'd adventured as a young man to call in old debts make use of his decades of experience. He's even tempted to turn his back on politics and monarchy and return to the simple life of a roaming warrior, but Conan the King is not the same man as Conan the Barbarian, and his growth over the series as a whole, if anything, makes Conan unique in the realm of pulp sword-and-sorcery.(less)
I've heard it said that "Those who read him at the right age owe a great debt of gratitude to Edgar Rice Burroughs." (Roger Lancelyn Green, according...moreI've heard it said that "Those who read him at the right age owe a great debt of gratitude to Edgar Rice Burroughs." (Roger Lancelyn Green, according to a quick Google search.) If I'd come to this book as an adult, I would have enjoyed it for what it was, then nit-picked it to shreds. It's a first novel and it shows, but for 1910's pulp fiction it's a fantastic first novel. The narrative is simple: John Carter, a chiseled, indomitable manly-man and Civil War vet, gets zapped to Mars after a mini-escapade with some bloodthirsty Indians. There, he falls in with a band of 15' green savages, falls in love with a beautiful, red-skinned bombshell, explores Mars, kills a bunch of guys, starts a war, and gets the girl. What's most interesting is that Burroughs denies his hero a happy-ever-after, but chooses to end on a bittersweet cliffhanger.
If I'd first read this today, I would have probably noticed all the contrivances Burroughs uses to keep the plot moving, and I might have been put off by what a homicidal maniac John Carter turns out to be. However, I first read this in Junior High, after finding out about this series on Carl Sagan's Cosmos, and I found the editions with the gorgeous Michael Whelan covers full of nekkid people.
In other words, it made my 13-year-old head explode. So: 5 stars.(less)
Unlike A Princess of Mars, I'd pretty much forgotten the entire plot of the sequel, which is odd since it actually h...more2012 John Carter re-read, part II:
Unlike A Princess of Mars, I'd pretty much forgotten the entire plot of the sequel, which is odd since it actually has a plot, whereas Princess didn't. It's a daring one too, with some pretty nasty things to say about the nature of religion. Carter gets zapped back to Mars after a 10-year absence, only to find himself trapped in Barsoom's version of paradise - a blissful garden of Eden from which no Martian ever returns, because they're torn to shreds by carnivorous plant-men or made slaves by the white-skinned Therns who have been exploiting and encouraging the superstitions of the red and green races for their own benefit. Burroughs piles the ironies thick by adding even more layers of false belief, for the Therns themselves are as much the victims of their own superstitions as the reds and greens are of theirs.
All this, plus grueling fight scenes, titanic sky (and sea) battles, and another whopper of a cliffhanger to pull you into book three.
The one big flaw that Gods of Mars suffers is that while Burroughs's skill as a storyteller increases, his horrible ear for dialog begins to show. Princess was full of dry exposition, but it was mostly in the form of Carter talking to the reader. In Gods, the exposition comes from other characters giving long-winded speeches to Carter in a faux-Shakespearean dialect that's painful to read. Somehow I didn't notice when I read this book as a kid, so the 5-star rating stands.(less)
With Warlord of Mars the original John Carter trilogy concludes. In this volume, Burroughs discards the complexity,...more2012 John Carter re-read, part 3 -
With Warlord of Mars the original John Carter trilogy concludes. In this volume, Burroughs discards the complexity, intrigue, and world-building that made Gods of Mars stand out in favor of a straightforward, rip-roaring action novel. From the beginning, John Carter is cut off from all of his friends and allies as he and his faithful Mars-dog Woola set out in pursuit of Dejah Thoris, now in the clutches of the few remaining villains left over from the previous book. It's a standard damsel-in-distress plot: a) Carter chases them to new exotic location, b) makes new enemies and/or allies, c) almost catches up to his quarry but they get away again, d) repeat as necessary.
Along the way you get aerial dogfights, jungle battles, a lost kingdom on Mars's north pole, and a couple of dungeon crawls. Burroughs also demonstrates that more than any other pulp writer of his age, he knew how to write a satisfying action climax. As a conclusion to a mad, three-book odyssey, Warlord of Mars sticks the landing and John Carter finally gets the happy ending Burroughs denied him in the previous books. (Spoiler? Not really.) However, by the end of the story John Carter has become such an invincible character that there's not much more ERB can do with him, leading to the (very wise) choice to shift the focus of the next few books in the series to other, less superhuman protagonists.(less)
Solomon Kane is arguably Robert Howard’s most original creation. Most of his others were boxers, cowboys, or barbarian kings, but 16th century Puritan...moreSolomon Kane is arguably Robert Howard’s most original creation. Most of his others were boxers, cowboys, or barbarian kings, but 16th century Puritan swordsman Kane stands alone. Of all Howard’s characters he’s certainly the most selfless – but more than that, he’s an obsessive fanatic willing to scour the ends of the earth righting wrongs, which most of the time involves avenging the death of people who are total strangers to him. Unlike Conan or Kull, Kane seems to have no desires for himself, other than to walk the earth and kick ass. The stories in this volume are all good, rip-roaring pulp adventures; my only warning is that they haven’t aged as well as Howard’s other work because of the racism that comes through in the writing.
Let’s lay it out there: Howard was a Southern white guy from a small Texas town in the beginning of the 20th century. Of course he was racist. So were my grandparents, and (I suspect) many other writers of the era who are held in high reverence. However, whereas many writers of the day simply avoided having black characters appear in their stories at all, Howard takes Kane on an odyssey across Africa, and his portrayal of its inhabitants does not hold up to modern scrutiny. In a few instances the Africans are portrayed as villains, but more often they are the victims who Kane protects from oppressors.
Nevertheless, Howard for the most part depicts them as a “lesser race.” Whenever Kane encounters the ruins of ancient civilizations in Africa, they are always the work of non-African peoples, such as Atlanteans or Assyrians. The only black character who is portrayed as anything approaching Kane’s equal is the West African shaman N’Longa – but that character falls into the old “magical Negro” stereotype (google it) and is the exception rather than the rule.
The Solomon Kane stories do shine with originality and some of Howard’s best poetry, but every now and then he drops a race-bomb, such as this passage from the otherwise fantastic story “Wings in the Night” –
…the ancient empires fall, the dark-skinned peoples fade and even the demons of antiquity gasp their last, but over all stands the Aryan barbarian, white-skinned, cold-eyed, dominant, the supreme fighting man of the earth…
(slaps face and shakes head)
So – a good and necessary read for the Howard fan, but not the place to begin for newcomers. (less)
"The Rocketeer" is an infuriating graphic novel, because it makes you realize two things: 1) Dave Stevens is dead, and 2) he didn't produce very many...more"The Rocketeer" is an infuriating graphic novel, because it makes you realize two things: 1) Dave Stevens is dead, and 2) he didn't produce very many comics when he was alive. As a period-piece pulp action adventure, the Rocketeer is astounding, and the artwork is breathtaking. This was truly one of the great hidden gems of the 80's independent comic scene - a little too well hidden, in my opinion. I was a comic book fiend when the movie came out in 1991, and I didn't learn until years later that it was actually based on a comic.
I see that a lot of reviewers on Goodreads complain about the lack of story. The problem is that collecting all the various Rocketeer strips into a single bound volume puts them in the wrong context - that of a unified graphic novel. These started out as 12-page backup comics that appeared in a variety of anthologies from an assortment of publishers, with an incredibly uneven and inconsistent publication schedule. In those conditions, Stevens had no way to know if the "next" chapter following any given issue would even see print, and had to assume that any given chapter was the first that an individual reader had come across. As such, he had to keep the narrative as simple as possible and throw everything he could into the art and the sense of adventure, which he did.
The Rocketeer ends abruptly, and it's obvious that Stevens had more stories to tell. Thank God and Dark Horse that the final chapter collected here finally did see print in 1995 (six years after the cliffhanger that led into it) or the Rocketeer may have truly been relegated to the dusty 25c-bins of history.(less)
Classic B-List "Detective Comics" backup character gets the Vertigo treatment. This edition collects a 4-issue 1999 miniseries and the graphic novel "...moreClassic B-List "Detective Comics" backup character gets the Vertigo treatment. This edition collects a 4-issue 1999 miniseries and the graphic novel "Final Cut." It's easy to love the cool concept behind Human Target, but in execution it leaves the protagonist too cold a character to sympathize with. As a result, the story is gripping on an intellectual level but stays as emotionally distant as its main character.
Anyway, if ya didn't know, Christopher Chance is a professional impersonator who specializes in taking the place of people who have been targeted for assassination. In the Vertigo version, he goes so deep into his subjects' lives that he loses his own sense of self and often forgets that he's not really the person he's impersonating. The first story in this volume offers several layers of impersonation within impersonation, Inception style. The second offers a more compelling mystery, but I didn't particularly care for the solution. The whole is intriguing in a dark, pulp noir kind of way, but I don't really feel hooked enough to come back for volume 2.(less)