“Paging Dr. Howard, Dr. Fine, Dr. Engdahl….”

Those of use who bemoan the occasional spectacle of this-or-that two-bit American critic clumsily attempting to take Robert E. Howard out to the woodshed can take heart in remembering that no matter how elitist or arrogant or divorced from reality a particular critic appears, there always — always — is an even bigger and more clueless snob waiting just around the bend:

STOCKHOLM, Sweden (AP) – The man who announces the Nobel Prize in literature says the United States is too “insular” and ignorant to compete with Europe when it comes to great writing.

In an exclusive interview with The Associated Press, Horace Engdahl said Tuesday that “Europe still is the center of the literary world.”

Engdahl is the permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy, which selects the literature prize winner. He is expected to announce the winner in the coming weeks.

Engdahl says the U.S. “is too isolated, too insular” and doesn’t really “participate in the big dialogue of literature.”

Since Japanese poet Kenzaburo Oe won in 1994, the selections have had a distinct European flavor. The last American winner was Toni Morrison in 1993.

Mr. Engdahl really thinks that by making such statements he is leveraging the enormous clout and gravitas of the Nobel Prize and marshaling that august legacy to the defense of literary Europe. What he’s really doing is squandering what little reputational capital the Prize has left and continuing its long continental drift into irrelevance. Just saying something doesn’t make it so, and sometimes a prize can over time become a scarlet letter. American literature has as little to fear from Sweden’s literary aesthetes as our military does from their Home Guard.

Steve adds: The late Norman Mailer’s zeitgeist-wrassling was never to everyone’s taste (although some visitors to this site would be startled by the ambition and multiple adrenaline spikes of his boxing journalism), but the best of his fiction (The Naked and the Dead, Why Are We In Vietnam?) and the best of his nonfiction (“Superman Comes to the Supermarket,” The Armies of the Night, Miami and the Siege of Chicago, The Executioner’s Song) should easily have notched him a Nobel. Rumor was, he was blackballed year after year after year by at least one academician, as also occurred with Graham Greene. Guess there’s more than one kind of Stockholm Syndrome…

Beneath Ceaseless Skies

Over here we have a new online S&S fiction magazine, titled Beneath Ceaseless Skies, dedicated to publishing “literary adventure fantasy,” what they also call “modern traditional fantasy” or “literary swords and sorcery.” You can read a lengthy interview with editor Scott Andrews here. What makes this project interesting is

A) It’s free to subscribe to.

B) It’s set to appear every two weeks.

C) They are going to pay their authors the comparatively magnificent sum of five cents a word.


D) They intend to podcast audio versions of many of their published stories.

How they intend to pay five cents a word while giving the stories away for free is an open question, as is how they intend to deal with the tsunami of awful slush that is sure to soon overwhelm their editorial staff. My guess is they might soon run out of gas and start coming out less frequently and/or paying less, but I’m perfectly willing — hoping! — to be proven wrong. Indeed, if they succeed they will be the only S&S market out there worthy of the name: one that comes out often, always remains open to submissions, and consistently provides stories of a superior literary quality. I consider the REH/HPL/CAS brands of prose poetry to be essential elements of the fantasy I praise most highly, and it sounds as if the editors at Beneath Ceaseless Skies share that penchant.

So best of luck to Scott Andrews and the rest of the BCS gang. Head on over to their site and subscribe — the first issue is set to appear on Thursday October 9. And check out their forum, which will undoubtedly grow as the magazine gains readers and takes off.


I’ve just about given up on REH’s Wikipedia page, as it’s nigh impossible to keep up with all of the stupid and destructive edits being inflicted on otherwise good text.

One guy recently stumbled onto the page and promptly deleted key sentences in the heavily footnoted opening, with the explanation that they were “too POV” for Wikipedia. He then proceeded to delve into the footnotes and edit direct quotations from books that were excerpted, deleting whole sentences without any ellipse or other signal that the quote had been tampered with.

Another guy deleted the sentences that said, “H. P. Lovecraft was severely affected by the death of his friend, and within a year would die himself of intestinal cancer. Clark Ashton Smith (the third member of the great triumvirate of Weird Tales) was stricken by the deaths of Howard and Lovecraft as well as those of his own parents, and soon stopped writing fiction himself, fading from the scene,” explaining that he had “Removed unsourced suggestion that Howard’s death caused Lovecraft’s cancer and Smith’s giving up writing.” Caused Lovecraft’s cancer? How can you fight off an endless assault from guys who can’t even properly read what is before their eyes without grossly misinterpreting clear declarative sentences.

When I get time I am going to post somewhere other than Wikipedia the original, un-Wikidioted version of that Robert E. Howard entry, and perhaps expand it over time into a decent biographical sketch. Somewhere it will be safe from mass attrition, relentless banalization, and general dumbing down.

Subterranean’s Kull

Subterranean Press reports that their Wandering Star-like Limited Edition of this title is about to go out of print. Check out the details of this edition and buy your copy here.

Frankly I’m skeptical of this claim. Wandering Star had enough trouble selling out of their books even when there were no Del Reys competing with them, and even when titles like Bran Mak Morn: The Last King and The Ultimate Triumph were selling much cheaper than $150 the copy, which is what Kull is going for at Subterranean. And once the Del Reys hit the scene, boom — Wandering Star’s sales fell drastically, and they were left with a lot of books they couldn’t unload.

And now here is Subterranean — with a reported print run of 1500 copies, competing against the Del Rey trade paperbacks, and in the middle of a frighteningly shaky economy to boot — on the brink of selling out their run a scant few months after the volume’s debut? Nah, don’t believe it. I suppose they may have successfully foisted them onto various middlemen and independent booksellers, but those guys are going to hold on to the majority of them for a loooong time if past performance is any guide. And if there is any plan in place to return unsold copies they might end up flowing back into Subterranean’s headquarters like a receding tide. I might be wrong, but judging by everything else I’ve seen happen with these high-priced deluxe editions the numbers don’t add up.

As for the initial reviews, the ones that have made their way to me have been mixed. On the positive side, the book’s editor Rusty Burke is quoted on the Subterranean Press website as follows:

Thing’s freakin’ gorgeous. The whole point that Marcelo sold me on when we discussed the REH Library project was that our books would show REH being treated with the kind of respect he deserved, and that the presentation of quality editions would make people think he was indeed a writer who was worthy of respect. I work my tail off on the editorial matters because I want them to be as worthy as the physical presentation. I thank you for continuing the series with the same level of respect.

There’s also a handful of other encomiums on that page. One of my favorite Cimmerian readers, Tim Haberkorn of Colorado, also sends in praise for this volume, telling me via email that it, “matches my Wandering Star editions perfectly.”

But does it? One perilous note can be found here:

Our Director of Production, Yanni Kuznia, is helming our continuation of the Wandering Star Robert E. Howard Limited Editions. Right now, she’s cranium deep in Kull: Exile of Atlantis, proofreading our text against the del Rey version, and also double- and triple-checking the index to make certain everything is aright in that regard as well.

Say what? The exact text that had already been formatted for the Del Rey book wasn’t used? it sounds here as if they are using a separate text and proofing it against the Del Reys. If true, the possibility of typos creeping in looms large.

[UPDATE: After reading the above, Bill Schafer at Subterranean sent along an explanation: “We did indeed receive the del Rey files, but we always proof against a finished copy of the book in case errors have crept into the files we are given, or are introduced when files are converted.” Nice to hear.]

More promising is the revelation on the same page that artist Justin Sweet touched up some of his art within this new volume, and they “played with the contrast” in an attempt to mark an improvement over the reproduction in the Del Reys.

I’ve heard tale from Don Herron, which he himself apparently heard secondhand, of a blistering review of the book appearing on one of the REH Yahoo groups, written by a source I trust implicitly in matters bibliographic: Cimmerian reader Doris Salley. Apparently Doris considers the book an enormous disappointment, criticizing everything from the quality of the slipcase to the paper used to the art layout and binding. Ouch. Doris is exactly the kind of discriminating, hardcore bibliophile that the Wandering Star books were built to appeal to, and if she is that unhappy with Subterranean’s product, it doesn’t bode well for the series.

Looking at the picture posted on their website of the book and slipcase, I can sort of see what she means — it looks at first glance as if the raw materials used for the boards and case don’t hold a candle to the Wandering Star versions Marcelo spent so much money on. People have picked about things like the font size, art, and margins in the WS editions, but the quality of the paper, the workmanship of the slipcases, and the binding and gilded edges have no real peer in modern popular bookmaking as far as I can tell (the sole exception to this sterling record of WS workmanship is the Bran Mak Morn slipcase, which is maddeningly just a bit too tight for the book due to an extra item being added to the Table of Contents at the last minute. But even then, the slipcase is still great, it’s just a bit too tight, especially with a Brodart on the dust jacket).

Me, I’m hoping that Del Rey releases affordable hardcovers of these books to match the one they did for the first Conan volume. That one is perfect for my needs, and if I could get the others in cloth I’d be a happy camper. Unfortunately, it looks as if they decided that sales wouldn’t justify releasing all of these books between boards, and the fallback option of the Science Fiction Book Club hardbacks doesn’t work well either, because those are slightly smaller than the Del Reys and use a much inferior grade of paper.

Next up for Subterranean is The Best of REH Vol. I. The run for that is due to be only half of Kull’s 1500 copies — why the massive reduction, if indeed Kull is selling as briskly as they claim? I suppose Best Ofs might not sell as well as the individual titles as a rule, but you’d think that any 1500 people willing to shell out $150 for a book would plan on getting the entire set. Tim Haberkorn reminds me that it’s Conan III that the Deluxe fans are really waiting for, but the Subterranean site says there is a “rights situation,” adding: “Thus far, the one party that needs to sign off on the third Conan volume has refused to do so, though we thought an understanding had been reached with everyone, and they had been sent a contract promptly.” That was way back in March, and it looks as if they have moved on with the Best Ofs. I feel damn sorry for the guys who bought Conan I and II and have been patiently waiting for III ever since (especially the book’s artist, Greg Manchess, who has yet to see his color plates reproduced as they were intended alongside the text). Stuff happens and all that — with luck it’ll get made eventually, at Subterranean or somewhere else.

“The Horror….”

This volume is set to be loosed onto a terrified populace just in time for Halloween, on Tuesday October 28, 2008. There’s been no Table of Contents released for this as far as I know (Rusty, if the lineup is set give us a sneak-peek rundown at REHupa.com!), but it’s going to be big, and chock full of Howard’s most memorable horror tales and verse.

Some readers who haven’t read widely in this area of the Texan’s oeuvre might be asking, “Exactly how good was Robert E. Howard at horror?” The most influential horror writer of the twentieth century, H. P. Lovecraft, wrote that

He [REH] was almost alone in his ability to create real emotions of fear and of dread suspense. Contrast his “Black Canaan” with the pallid synthetic pap comprising the rest of the current issue of W. T. Bloch and Derleth are clever enough technically — but for stark, living fear…the actual smell and feel and darkness and brooding horror and impending doom that inhere in that nighted, moss-hunted jungle…what other writer is even in the running with REH?

Now granted, Lovecraft didn’t live to see Robert Bloch write Psycho, and thank God he didn’t live to see what Derleth did to his Mythos, but I think the point stands. If you want a more modern take on Howard’s horror credentials, Stephen King wrote in his 1981 critical overview Danse Macabre that Howard’s “Pigeons from Hell” was “one of the finest horror stories of our century.” That same tale was adapted for Boris Karloff’s Thriller, and is still considered one of the scariest episodes of anthology horror television ever produced. Howard’s horror stories have lots of fans — check out this blog post, where the proprietor proclaims that “The Horror Stories of Robert E. Howard is the exact reason Peggy and I established the Dark Forces Book Group.”

Yep, Howard’s horror stories and poetry are pretty freakin’ awesome, and it’s going to be wonderful to have the best of them collected in one textually pure, fully-illustrated volume. All praise to Rusty Burke, Patrice Louinet, and the rest of the Del Rey editorial gang for making this book happen.

UPDATE: Rusty has just posted the Table of Contents along with some art samples and more details at the REHupa website. Looks like an incredibly meaty book.

Charles Saunders Checks In

Our favorite purveyor of Sword & Soul has added a great new post to his blog, wherein he casts his Imaro novels with a selection of Hollywood’s best and brightest. Just click over to Charles’ website and select BLOG from the menu on the left — the post in question is titled “A Nyumbani Facebook.” Great fun. His selection of Gary Coleman as Pomphis reminds me of the time I bumped into Coleman here in Los Angeles circa 1998 or so. I was waiting in line at a Koo Koo Roo restaurant here in Marina del Rey, and the diminutive actor strolled in to pick up a take-out order. No one bothered him, but there was a lot of staring at the Mutt and Jeff absurdity of his standing next to me, a six-foot-eight Jolly Green Giant.

Charles also has a new menu item on his site marked RECOMMENDED, in which he has listed a number of books and authors he’s read recently, all of whom he’s jazzed enough about to share with his own readers. Fans of Howard’s boxing tales — an ever-growing group which includes virtually everyone who hunts them down and reads them — will want to pick up the new biography of the great Golden Age pugilist Sam Langford that Charles discusses in one of his posts.

Finally, Charles tells me that the long-awaited Imaro III is almost ready to be released by Brother Uraeus’ Sword & Soul Media — The Cimmerian will let you know as soon as it hits the mean streets (you can get the first two Imaro novels, Imaro and The Quest for Cush, both completely revised and updated, at Amazon). And if you haven’t picked up Sword & Soul Media’s first release, Dossouye, what the hell are you waiting for? If I’ve said it once I’ve said it a hundred times: Saunders’ mythic, sorcerous, fantasticated Africa — lushly imagined with liberal amounts of thoroughly enchanting real-life history, culture, and folklore, and sprinkled with bloody droplets of Howardian fairy-dust — constitutes the most effective attempt at subcreation since Tolkien’s Middle-earth. Pick whatever nits you wish about plotting, pacing, wording, whatever — the world-building is that good.

The August TC Has Arrived

Steve has been singlehandedly holding up this blog like Atlas lately, with post after fascinating post on a variety of S&S and related subjects. The rest of us, alas, have been negligent.

[redacted] has been busy for months on both The Collected Letters of Robert E. Howard Volume III (due real soon) and The Complete Poetry of Robert E. Howard (due anywhere from late this year to early next year — but we know how deadlines in Howard land tend to slip and slide all over the place, so I’ll wait for Rob to weigh in with a more definitive estimate). I’m still amazed that these long-awaited Howardian holy grails are finally being dragged kicking and screaming into existence, Rosemary’s Baby style, and while he’s receiving a lot of help with acquiring typescripts, proofing, and art design, it is Rob who is the indefatigable force willing these books together one day, one page, one letter or poem at a time. May Crom (and his wife) continue to ignore him.

[redacted] was here recently taking on the latest editorial outrage inflicted on Howard (here and here), but he’s also busy with the movie theater he owns in Vernon, Texas and with a variety of fiction and fannish projects (you can always pop into his personal blog, Finn’s Wake, for details on what he’s working on).

I, for my part, have found myself increasingly pulled away from fandom over the last year, and what finite time I have spent in the arena was dedicated to getting out the August issue of The Cimmerian, just released and mailed to subscribers last week. The cornerstone of the issue is a long essay of unusual depth and quality of research, focused on Howard’s relationship with the pulp Argosy, and ultimately whether Howard would have brought Conan to the prestigious market had he lived. There’s also tons of information, quotations, and opinions within about Lovecraft, E. Hoffmann Price, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Farnsworth Wright, and a host of lesser characters. The main reason the August issue is a month late was because I was waiting for this monster of a piece to be finished, and I’m glad I did because it’s well worth the wait.

“Red Shadows”: Subgenre-Dawn’s Early Light?

Next month if nothing happens the Weird Tales publishes my “Red Shadows” which according to the announcement is “Red Shadows on black trails — thrilling adventures and blood-freezing perils — savage magic and strange sacrifices to the Black God. The story moves swiftly and without the slightest letdown in interest through a series of startling episodes and wild adventure to end in a smashing climax in a glade of an African forest. A story that grips the reader and carries him along in utter fascination by its eery succession of strange and weird happenings.” The announcement does it a fair amount of justice I suppose.
Robert E. Howard to Tevis Clyde Smith, circa June 1928

In “Conan the Argonaut,” their must-read lead article for the worth-the-wait TCV5n4, Morgan Holmes and George Knight say of ‘The Shadow Kingdom,” “That story was Sword-and-Sorcery’s magnificent coming-out party.” Howard’s antediluvian showstopper is usually seen that way, as the beginning of what has been such a beautiful friendship between fantasy, adventure, and horror in the form of a new subgenre. But every once in a while someone is moved to contest the consensus by asking, what about Solomon Kane? He beat Kull into print by a year; “Red Shadows” in the August 1928 Weird Tales was followed by “Skulls in the Stars” in the January 1929 issue. Why isn’t the Devonian (Devonshireman?) rather than the Atlantean accorded the status of having been first to climb into the cockpit as sword-and-sorcery’s test pilot?

My blog-brother Finn would seem to be one such dissenter; in “Two-Gun Musketeer: Robert E. Howard’s Weird Tales,” his introduction to Shadow Kingdoms: The Weird Works of Robert E. Howard, Volume One, Mark writes “Howard invented the sword and sorcery tale as we define it with his genre-breaking Solomon Kane.” He regards “The Shadow Kingdom” as then taking “the sword and sorcery concept one step further” by deleting “any semblance of the world we know.”

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Maybe They’ll Devise an “Origin” for Ahab…

I’m going to let a September 22 Variety story speak, offensively, for itself, because words fail me, unless it be to note that the verb to revere clearly doesn’t mean what I thought it did:

Universal Pictures has made a splashy preemptive buy of “Moby Dick,” a reimagining of the Herman Melville whale tale that Timur Bekmambetov (“Wanted”) will direct. Studio paid high six figures to Adam Cooper and Bill Collage to pen the screenplay.

The writers revere Melville’s original text, but their graphic novel-style version will change the structure. Gone is the first-person narration by the young seaman Ishmael, who observes how Ahab’s obsession with killing the great white whale overwhelms his good judgment as captain.

This change will allow them to depict the whale’s decimation of other ships prior to its encounter with Ahab’s Pequod, and Ahab will be depicted more as a charismatic leader than a brooding obsessive.

“Our vision isn’t your grandfather’s Moby Dick, ” Cooper said. “This is an opportunity to take a timeless classic and capitalize on the advances in visual effects to tell what at its core is an action-adventure revenge story.”

Scott Stuber is producing with Jim Lemley and Cormac and Marianne Wibberley.

Both Stuber and Bekmambetov have deals at Universal. Bekmambetov will look to apply the visual flourish he displayed on the U summer hit Wanted.

“We wanted to take a graphic novel sensibility to a classic narrative,” said Collage.

This, That, T’Other

Haterade drinkers insofar as “The Black Stranger” is concerned often target the character of Tina for special opprobrium, condemning in particular the punishment Valenso frantically administers to her as a distasteful piece of Brundage-bait, Howard blatantly angling for another Weird Tales cover or at least catering to a one-handed segment of his readership. Paying attention to the way the scene is constructed and described should be enough to disprove such allegations, but turning to “The Black Stranger: Synopsis A” in The Conquering Sword of Conan is also useful in that the synopsis is of course Howard selling Howard on his latest idea, telling the story to himself, engaging in the equivalent of a filmmaker’s “pre-viz” (previsualization). Here he refers to Tina as “a flaxen-haired Ophirean waif,” “the little Ophirean girl,” and “the child,” and Valenso loses the self-control that should be a Zingaran grandee’s watchword as follows:

The nobleman instantly seemed seized with madness, and had the girl cruelly whipped, until he saw she was telling the truth.

Nary a hint of a prurient agenda. I sometimes wonder whether Esteban Maroto contributed to the muddying of the waters here; his illustrations for the 1980 Ace standalone The Treasure of Tranicos leer at Tina through a vaseline-smeared lens as a pillowy, pouty houri on the brink of several Sapphic interludes with Belesa:

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