Linkage and Thinkage

Howardists’ Howardist Charles Hoffman turns in an Amazonian review of The Collected Horror Stories of Robert E. Howard. He’s none too affrighted by “Rattle of Bones” (for my part I don’t think “Delenda Est” is classifiable as a horror story unless one is on the payroll of the late-period Roman Empire) and sticks up for the excluded “The Hyena,” “Black Wind Blowing,” and especially “The People of the Black Coast.” I tried to push that story hard in a TC essay back in February, but it seems that “People” is a rare blind spot for His Editorial Excellency Rusty Burke; perhaps he’s simply dined too well on too many crabmeat dinners over the years to accept the crustaceans’ oversized and supersapient brethren as a credible threat.

Today is of course Black Friday for those of us who unswooningly prefer the gore-and-gravedirt-reeking, hemoglobin-slurping, food-chain-topping undead of yester-fiction, so it’s great to see Hoffman plugging The Collected Horror Stories at the expense of “contemporary horror…recently dominated by chicks’ overheated erotic fantasies about their imaginary vampire boyfriends.” I don’t think Del Rey did themselves any favors in terms of imprinting a strong visual identity for each REH collection this time, though. Here’s the Greg Staples tentacular spectacular that for months was the front runner for front cover:

Instead they went with this:

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A Farewell to Armistice Day: “What Hellish Seed…?”

It’s been ninety years since “the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month” of 1918 on the Western Front, and very soon now recalled or recollected history will give way entirely to history that is merely recorded. My thoughts never require much encouragement to run to World War One, and this morning two “holiday”-themed pieces got me musing about remembrance and the conflict that murdered illusions and mothered ironies, the distant Armageddon of Robert E. Howard’s childhood. In “Photographer Races Clock to Honor Last Few World War I Vets” Mark Bixier and Paula Hancocks describe the commemorative efforts of one David De Jonge, who’s driven by his awareness of “the last breaths of the last souls who witnessed one of the most horrific wars this world has ever seen.” By his painstakingly researched count, only ten veterans — of any Great War army — still survive:

Four live in Britain, two in Australia, two in France and two in the United States: Buckles and 108-year-old John Babcock of Spokane, Washington, who served with Canadian forces during World War I, DeJonge said.

Each week or month that passes, it seems, brings news of an aging veteran succumbing before DeJonge can find the time and money to photograph him.

Not long ago, he said, two Jamaicans who fought with the British during World War I died. The last known German, French and Austro-Hungarian veterans died in the last year as well.

“These are the last of the last,” he said.

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Samhain at The Cimmerian

October is a month that doesn’t merely pluck at heart-strings, but scrapes a violinist’s bow across them. Sunlight like dwindling gold coins from a pursesnatcher’s best-ever score. Late afternoon lyricism, the year waning and the night gaining. Champagne-air with an ice water chaser. The last month of shirtsleeves and the first month of the schoolyear turned routine, after the adjustments to new classes and new teachers have been made. The Constitutional taffy-pull of the First Monday in October. The pine-tarry benison of still playing in October. The campaign bogeyman of the October Surprise. Robert Frost’s “October.” The demesne of our branch-denuding, Howard-evoking acquaintance, the sere and yellow leaf. Jack Skellington and Halloween Town. Pumpkin patches with nothing but sincerity as far as the eye can see. Laurie Strode, still hours away from her babysitting gig, called on by her English teacher, de-abstractifying Fate as being “a natural element, like earth, air, fire, water.”

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“The High-Spired Splendidness of Old”

Then suddenly fire burst from the Meneltarma, and there came a mighty wind and a tumult of the earth, and the sky reeled, and the hills slid, and Númenor went down into the sea, with all its children and its wives and its maidens and its ladies proud; and all its gardens and its halls and its towers, its tombs and its riches, and its jewels and its webs and its things painted and carven, and its laughter and its mirth and its music, its wisdom and its lore: they vanished for ever.

J.R.R. Tolkien, Akallabêth

Atlantology, which boasts a Donnelly and a Donovan, is also blessed with a Donald, Donald Sidney-Fryer. Cimmerian readers know him as one of the journal’s triumvirate of poets laureate alongside Richard Tierney and Darrell Schweitzer, a translator, and an essayist who won a 2008 Hyrkanian Award for his “Robert E. Howard: Epic Poet in Prose.” Students of weird fiction know him as a contributor to The Dark Barbarian, the editor of the Timescape Clark Ashton Smith collections The City of the Singing Flame, The Last Incantation, and The Monster of the Prophecy, and the author of The Sorcerer Departs: Clark Ashton Smith (1893-1961), the founding document of Klarkashtonian Studies. His website heralds him as “the Last of the Courtly Poets & Northern California’s Only Neo-Elizabethan Poet-Entertainer.” And The Atlantis Fragments, which collects Mr. Sidney-Fryer’s three sets of Songs and Sonnets Atlantean, confirms that he is a direct descendant of mythohistorical figures like Atlas I, called Pharanomion (“the founder”, the Northron-harried Poseidon II, and Atlantarion the poet-king.

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Household Name In CBS-Watching Households?

Mondays-at-8:00 sitcom The Big Bang Theory is actually funny enough to lure me to CBS for a half hour a week, even if it means tolerating that network’s trademark smell of Metamucil spillages and mummification spices. As part of last night’s episode “The Barbarian Sublimation” in which Penny (Kaley Cuoco), her self-esteem cratering, became addicted to Age of Conan, the writers made sure to have breakout character Sheldon (Jim Parsons) emphasize that the game was set in the universe of Robert E. Howard’s creation.

Most of the subsequent references to places and players were game-inventions rather than authentically Howardian, but Tortage and the Swamps of the Purple Lotus got name-checked, so not too shabby, all in all. Plus, no one used the term Hyboria

David Gemmell Gets His Due

There’s a new genre accolade in the ring, The David Gemmell Legend Award, set to be presented each year to the author of the best heroic fantasy novel. It sounds as if this will go down similar to the World Fantasy Award, with voters helping to make a shortlist and then a panel of judges picking the winner.

The whole works is just getting started, but they are building a fantasy community on their site complete with member pages, registration for periodic updates, and a forum where all of the nominees are subjects for discussion. All in all, a cool way to help preserve Gemmell’s memory. Hope it works out for them. (hat tip Ansible via Don Herron)

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.

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!), 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.

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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