John J. Miller Gives Grognardia Its Due

Over at National Review Online, friend of The Cimmerian, John J. Miller, just posted an entry giving props to Grognardia. As some TC readers may already know, James Maliszewski’s web log is perhaps the finest of its kind devoted to role-playing games. Just a few weeks ago, Grognardia received plaudits from The L.A. Times.  Even if you’re not of the role-playing bent, it is still worthwhile checking in on Grognardia from time to time. Maliszewski is a keen student and critic of the the pulp-style adventure we all love and his book reviews are some of the best on the ‘Net, in my opinion.

Miller Gives Kelton His Due


Some might remember that a while back I blogged about the life and fiction of Elmer Kelton, possibly the greatest Western writer ever. Over at The Wall Street Journal Online, John J. Miller tips his own hat to the legacy of Kelton while also providing a look at Other Men’s HorsesElmer’s posthumous novel and the final installment in his “Texas Rangers” series . Check it out here.

One Good Turn Deserves Another

first_assassin_frontAs I noted in this post a few weeks ago, pal of The Cimmerian John J. Miller recently published his first novel, a Civil War-era thriller titled The First Assassin. Sales have been gratifying, with the book hitting #468 on’s numerical rankings at one point.

However, some guys hiding behind pseudonyms have mounted a coordinated attack on John’s book at, writing short bilious reviews and then tagging each other’s comments as “Helpful” so they gain weight and rise to the head of the list. It’s a clear attempt to hurt Miller’s sales and reputation, spearheaded by people who haven’t even read the book, based solely on their opinion about John’s day job.

Now those of you who read and enjoy this blog know how good Miller has been to REH and his fans. He’s published positive articles on REH in national venues, taking care to get his facts straight. He’s plugged the work of REH scholars like Rusty Burke and Paul Sammon in both written and podcast interviews. I can think of no other reporter who has done a better job of promoting Howard and his work to mainstream newspaper and magazine audiences. We all know how often REH gets skunked by reporters via error-riddled jeremiads, so this track record is no small feat.

If you are at all appreciative of the numerous kindnesses Miller has showered upon the field of Howard Studies, I urge you to visit the Amazon page for The First Assassin and take a minute to help pay back that karmic debt. Of course, if you haven’t read the book you shouldn’t write a review. But there’s nothing stopping you from reading the reviews already there, determining which ones are from people who freely admit to not having read the book, and then clicking NO on the question, “Was this review helpful to you?” As of this writing, the following reviews have numerous “helpful” votes:

“No WONDER this was rejected by any sane publisher!!!!!!”

“Never has Amazon’s preview function performed its task so admirably. Save your pennies and buy some comic books instead–they’re still your best entertainment value!”

“. . .the leaden, awkward prose and contrived storyline ensures that this is a book which will require the assistance of powerful chemical stimulation to finish.”

“Any reasonably literate person need only peruse the “look inside” function to get a sense of how crushingly poorly written this book is. There’s a reason it’s being self-published through a vanity press/laser printer shop.”

“I can’t help but feel that competition for this year’s Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Prize is over.”

These are all people who freely admit to not having read the book. It would be great if Cimmerian readers could reverse this ratio by clicking NO to “Was this review helpful?” and thus marking these for what they are: literary drive-by shootings of no help to truly interested readers whatsoever.

Furthermore, if you agree that any or all of these violate Amazon’s Terms of Service for reviews, which forbids “Profanity, obscenities, or spiteful remarks,” you can click on “Report This” and the the “Report as Inappropriate” button to alert Amazon that they should remove the review entirely. I think such extremely negative reviews — written in lockstep by a bunch of people who freely admit to not having read the book — certainly qualify.

There are also comments attached to each review, with the same nameless hooligans causing more mischief there. Each comment asks you to rate whether it contributed to the discussion — you can click NO to these as well if, like me, you disagree with what these guys are doing to John.

John J. Miller has done REH fandom many good turns over the last few years. Here is an opportunity to do one back. If you enjoyed the Cimmerian print magazine, and continue to enjoy the blog, you’d be doing me a special favor by following these links over to Amazon and helping to defend a solid friend of REH against those who would ruin the launch of his novel, a book that he worked on for thirteen years.

The First Assassin by John J. Miller

first_assassin_frontGood friend of The Cimmerian John J. Miller (who has covered Robert E. Howard positively and perceptively in The Wall Street Journal, interviewed Rusty Burke about the Del Rey Conan books for National Review Online, and highlighted Paul Sammon’s Conan the Phenomenon on his Between the Covers podcast) has released his first novel, a thriller set in the early days of the Civil War. Titled The First Assassin, it’s been getting great buzz from people whose opinions I trust in matters literary:

“An excellent book — it’s like The Day of the Jackal set in 1861 Washington.”

— Vince Flynn, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Pursuit of Honor

“Packed with fascinating information, superb characters, and sublime plot twists, The First Assassin is one of the most exciting thrillers I have read in a long, long time. This is historical fiction at its best and John J. Miller is the hot new author everyone will be talking about.”

— Brad Thor, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Apostle

“The story moves with swift suspense, but Miller’s real achievement is to take us inside a mindset nearly lost to time, and to create identifiable, sympathetic characters on all sides, including those who are willing to do murder to preserve the Confederacy and its ‘peculiar institution.’”

— Andrew Klavan, author of Empire of Lies

The First Assassin knocked me out. Utterly compelling, the novel sweeps the reader along multiple storylines which converge at one point, one moment, where history pivots on its axis. A skilled writer of non-fiction, here Miller uses his knowledge and research to create a powerful thriller that is completely believable. With its accurate period details and pitch-perfect characters — from house slaves to Washington, D.C. careerists to a mysterious hitman — there’s not a false note in the whole book. Read it and tell me I’m wrong.”

— Robert Ferrigno, author of Heart of the Assassin

On his blog John has written a number of posts on the genesis of his book and the choices that went into the editing and publishing of it. I was particularly interested in his thoughts on print-on-demand, a form of publishing that has really come into its own in recent years (witness the large number of POD books in Howard scholarship, most of which sold quite well considering the size of the field and the generally small market for literary criticism). More and more it’s becoming the norm for true book lovers to never set foot in a brick-and-mortar bookstore, places that are quickly becoming glorified coffee shops featuring clueless employees, frustratingly narrow inventories, and obscene prices. They are fast degenerating into the Blockbuster Videos of the publishing world, while online venues like Amazon serve as Netflix. Of course, for the lucky few having a big New York publisher’s marketing muscle behind you is a good thing, but the vast majority of authors can make more money with a lot less hassle by self-publishing. What used to be called the “mid-list” has vanished from the big houses and migrated to POD and smaller presses, to the point where it’s normal to see authors with already substantial careers resorting to POD when the economics make sense. It’s great to see entire genres ignored by the big conglomerates flourishing guerrilla-style like this, especially older stuff by politically-incorrect pulpsters that often are too forgotten or risque for today’s coterie of dainty mainstream editoresses.

The First Assassin is going to be listed on Amazon soon, but John gets more dough if you buy directly from the publisher, so head on over and pick up a copy. At $15 for a trade paperback (Morgan Holmes’ favorite format — not), it’s certainly competitively priced with the product put out by the big New York houses. And if you’re not regularly reading John’s blog, Hey Miller, you should put it into your rotation, both for the new material and for the reprinting of old items about stuff we fantasy fans care about, things like Edgar Allan Poe, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Robert Heinlein, and of course Conan, Beowulf, and David Gemmell.


Harold Lamb: John J.Miller Weighs in at The Wall Street Journal


Lamb’s obituaries in 1962 barely mentioned his fiction. By then, the cheap magazines that had published his yarns were long forgotten except by a few passionate collectors. Like a burial mound’s hidden hoard of treasure, they lay undisturbed, awaiting their rediscovery by Mr. Jones — and now a growing band of admirers.

Such is the coda of John J. Miller’s article concerning Harold Lamb’s career and the publication of Swords From the West, one of a brace of (very recently published) editions collecting Lamb’s work put out by Bison Books.


(Continue reading this post)

Three friends of The Cimmerian in the news


Don Herron’s The Dashiell Hammett Tour: Thirtieth Anniversary Guidebook is released

Don Herron is the best critic in Howard studies, bar none. However, REH is but a small part of his professional output. He’s most famous for helming the longest-running literary walking tour in the US, San Francisco’s Dashiell Hammett Tour. Over three decades it has become a Bay Area institution and a must-do for mystery fans and literati alike. In 1991 City Lights, Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s legendary counterculture imprint, published Don’s The Dashiell Hammett Tour: A Guidebook, which garnered great reviews and has been much sought after on the used market, often selling for over $100 in fine condition.

Now, Don has released a brand new, fully revised and updated version of his book. Published by Vince Emery as a part of his Ace Performer Collection, a group of titles by and about Hammett, this new edition looks beautiful, and is in hardcover to boot. Don has been running around doing various appearances in support of the release — just in the last few weeks he hit Boise, Idaho; Tuscon and Scottsdale, Arizona; and a bunch of places in and around San Francisco. MSNBC has a write-up of the book’s contents and of Don’s future book signings in the Bay Area. You can also keep up with the action at his website.

All of Don’s books are well worth hunting down — he’s collected, in fact, by the prestigious Bancroft Library at UC Berkeley, an organization that calls him on their website “the godfather of San Francisco mysteries.” But The Dashiell Hammett Tour book occupies a special place in his canon. The tour has been written up hundreds of times in virtually every major newspaper and venue, making it one of the most popular of its kind in the world. It (and Don) even appeared as an answer/question combo on Jeopardy! once. (To bring a bit of Cimmerian flavor into all of this: Don found out about the Jeopardy! thing when his good pal, the fantasy writer Fritz Leiber, called him up with the info. Leiber was a Jeopardy! fiend in his later years and caught wind of the Herron appearance during his usual afternoon viewing.)

So if you are a Hammett fan, or a fan of great literature in general — pick up a copy of the book at Amazon or wherever fine mystery books are sold.

(Continue reading this post)

Miller on Hemingway

Speaking of Ernest Hemingway, whom Steve mentions in his last post, friend of The Cimmerian John J. Miller has a brand new piece on the Master and his fishing habits in The Wall-Street Journal. Miller’s interest is more than professional — he grew up in Michigan and recently vacationed “Up North” in Seney, where the Hemingway stories discussed take place.

Miller on Gemmell


Head on over to The Wall Street Journal, where John J. Miller remembers David Gemmell in an article occasioned by the release of Gemmell’s last book, Troy: Fall of Kings, the final volume of his Trojan War trilogy. Nice to see one of the modern grandmasters of Sword-and-Sorcery fiction getting a posthumous boost in such a forum.

Progress Retort

The scene: A discussion group earlier this month, one that thanks to its membership and mission-creep often glances REH-ward. A writer with decades as a critic/contributor or player/coach in the fantasy and horror genres behind him, as well as exposure to Howard fandom at its most dynamic and forward-thinking but also at its most churlish and distempered, posts thusly:

My feeling is that real, serious criticism of REH is going to be seriously hampered for another generation. REH needs to get out of the control of his “fans.”

Well, that’s one not uninformed opinion, and there’s no gainsaying that it’s devoutly to be desired that “real, serious criticism of REH” will continue to evolve, with those fans perceptive and motivated enough to assay such criticism evolving right along with it. I might not even have blogged here in response, were it not for the fact that at about the time of the just-quoted post I’d been rummaging around in Peter Cannon’s 1990 Necronomicon Press collection “Sunset Terrace Imagery in Lovecraft” and Other Essays, only to be struck by how applicable his “H. P. Lovecraft: Problems in Critical Recognition” continues to be to our own field.

(Continue reading this post)

Beowulf the Movie is here


And as usual, John J. Miller is all over it. Read his first impressions here, and then head over to the Movie Review Query Engine for a selection of other opinions. The reviews are largely encouraging — Rotten Tomatoes shows the positive consensus at 73% — and yet even some of the ones who liked the film share John’s main gripe about disrespect. Roger Ebert, for example:

In the name of the mighty Odin, what this movie needs is an audience that knows how to laugh. Laugh, I tell you, laugh! Has the spirit of irony been lost in the land? By all the gods, if it were not for this blasted infirmity that the Fates have dealt me, you would have heard from me such thunderous roars as to shake the very Navy Pier itself down to its pillars in the clay.

To be sure, when I saw “Beowulf” in 3-D at the giant-screen IMAX theater, there were eruptions of snickers here and there, but for the most part, the audience sat and watched the movie, not cheering, booing, hooting, recoiling, erupting or doing anything else unmannerly. You expect complete silence and rapt attention when a nude Angelina Jolie emerges from the waters of an underground lagoon. But am I the only one who suspects that the intention of director Robert Zemeckis and writers Neil Gaiman and Roger Avary was satirical?

He then goes on to compare the bulk of the film to Monty Python and Austin Powers. Ouch — shades of Karl Edward Wagner’s referring to Universal’s Conan the Barbarian as “Li’l Abner versus the Moonies.” Still, the film is shaping up to be a hit, which when filtered through crude logic may translate into more big budget fantasy fare in multiplexes.

TC‘s previous Beowulf coverage:

An Irish Bard at King Hrothgar’s Court

More Beowulf