His Like Will Not Be Here Again

This has been an incredibly hard post to compose for a myriad of reasons. Steve Tompkins was nonpareil. His wit, his style, his awe-inspiring intelligence, his impact on Howard studies (and weird literature studies in general), his sheer output; there simply has not been any commentator on our beloved genre(s) quite like Mr. Tompkins. Many writers have pontificated about this or that aspect of weird/fantastic literature. Not one did so in quite the way that he did, nor did they do it quite so well, in this blogger’s opinion.

I never met Steve Tompkins (though we had a near miss at WFC ’06). I corresponded with him for about right on four weeks. Many others who knew him much better have already weighed in with praise for the man and his work. I can only give my perspective as a fan and as someone who hoped to call Steve Tompkins a friend someday.

(Continue reading this post)


Or Kane. Or Cain. The primordial killer, Caine is back. If you think Howard is grim, Wagner is dark, Adam Colby (whoever the heck that is) is bleak, try Stover, and especially Caine, the reality show for people who can’t stand reality.

Actually, this book has been out since last October, but with all the Howard coming out I haven’t been able to keep up with my other favorites so well as I’d like. Stover has been wasting his time and talent with Star Wars novels so much lately, this one kind of snuck up on me.

The Caine books are that rarity that tries to put science fiction and fantasy into the same story and actually doesn’t come off as lame.
(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)

Sewer Charons, Scarab Beetles, and Salieri-ism


Dickens was meant by Heaven to be the great melodramatist; so that even his literary end was melodramatic. Something more seems hinted at in the cutting short of Edwin Drood by Dickens than the mere cutting short of a good novel by a great man. It seems rather like the last taunt of some elf, leaving the world, that it should be this story which is not ended, this story which is only a story. The only one of Dickens’ novels which he did not finish was the only one that really needed finishing…
Dickens dies in the act of telling, not his tenth novel, but his first news of murder. He drops down dead as he is in the act of denouncing the assassin. It is permitted to Dickens, in short, to come to a literary end as strange as his literary beginning.

G. K. Chesterton, Appreciations and Criticisms of the Works of Charles Dickens

Darting come-hither glances at potential posthumous collaborators since Charles Dickens’ death in 1870, The Mystery of Edwin Drood has been completed more often than Form 1040-EZ. Dan Simmons‘ new novel isn’t just another attempt at closure and conclusiveness. Instead, Drood — the heftiness of which, as with The Terror (2007) before it, would better suit a tome intended for the bookstores of Brobdingnag than a burden to be borne by puny, hernia-prone hominids like us — plays with Chesterton’s already playful suggestions of a “melodramatic” or “strange” literary end for Dickens, of an interrupted assassin-denunciation, of the “something more” seemingly “hinted at in the cutting short of a good novel.”

Sometimes I think Harlan Ellison’s last major contribution to the fantastique, the purple-and-gold or black-and-red genres, was his part in the “discovery” of Dan Simmons. The Song of Kali (1985) so lastingly traumatized some of us that while watching Slumdog Millionaire we had to calm ourselves with reminders that Mumbai is a reassuring 1,677 kilometers away from Calcutta. Ever since that first novel, Simmons has succeeded at almost everything he has sought to do – and he has sought to do things undreamed of by even the most imaginative horror, science fiction, and dark fantasy specialists.

(Continue reading this post)

“I’ll Kill the Mama-Mfuka”: The Trail of Bohu in 2009

He saw Naama, its dark battlements thrusting against the sky of Land’s End. He saw the Erriten bathing in the emerald of mchawi. He saw the cities of the East Coast crumbling in blood-smeared ruin. He saw a cloud of darkness crawling inexorably northward…thousands upon thousands of armed men, and others who were not human at all, a cloud thicker than a thousand swarms of locusts and a thousand times more destructive. He saw the turrets of Gondur torn apart, stone by stone, and the stelae flung down to shatter in the streets. He saw his people dragged screaming to altars to be sacrificed to the Demon Gods. He saw the Erriten towering gigantic and triumphant, dominating all of Nyumbani. He saw the seed the Mashataan intended to sow to replace the children of the Cloud Striders…

Charles R. Saunders never left Imaro, nor did Imaro leave him; instead, the possibility of further publication left both of them for two decades after The Trail of Bohu (1985). The last of the three Saunders heroic fantasies from DAW Books in the Eighties, Bohu is its creator’s favorite because, as he informs us in an Author’s Note at the end of the revised-and-self-published 2009 edition, “it was the first Imaro novel that I wrote from scratch…Completing a novel that did not include previously published material was a major milestone in my development as a writer.” Those of us who pounced upon the 1985 version (insofar as its non-sea-to-shining-sea distribution allowed) have also always cherished Bohu for boasting the biggest budget, the most ambitious special effects, and the most on-location filming. Nyumbani grows by leaps and bounds, and the effect is as exhilarating as the opening of “Black Colossus,” wherein Shevatas orients himself in the ruins of Kuthchemes with a tour d’horizon encompassing fabled realms to the southwest, the east, and the north, all of which he knows “as a man knows the streets of his town,” or the scene near the end of The Fellowship of the Ring during which Frodo, his perspective newly panoptic thanks to the Seat of Seeing, in effect watches as the slavering jaws of the world war launched by Sauron close around Middle-earth.

We carry within the wonders we seek without us, Sir Thomas Browne wrote, There is all Africa and her prodigies in us: The Trail of Bohu in particular carries within it a prodigious number of African prodigies, both civilized (the glory that was Kush and the grandeur that was Great Zimbabwe) and barbaric — the trail in question leads past the most notorious killing fields in the history of southern Africa. The novel begins with inclement weather, with weather, in fact, that does not know the meaning of the word clemency. A storm is brewing at the southern end of Nyumbani, and the phrase “end of Nyumbani” applies in more ways than one. As we witness the enormities occurring in the High Chamber of the Erriten of Naama, which herald enormities greater still, the theme of both “The Call of Cthulhu” and “The Shadow Kingdom” swells again, the theme of man as an eviction-inviting squatter in a condemned edifice. In the words of Abadu, a character in David C. Smith’s novel Oron, “Humankind holds its life and its lands but precariously — and perhaps not at all.”

(Continue reading this post)

Tatters of The Pale King

David Foster Wallace hung himself on September 15, 2008. On that day, the author of novels like The Broom of the System, Infinite Jest and (the unfinished) The Pale King resolved to shuffle off this mortal coil at the business end of a home-made gibbet (see “Word of the Week“). Having been hailed for years as a “genius” by a vast array of pundits and critics, his beautiful wife gone for the day, Wallace quite apparently felt that life was no longer worth living.


To all fans of Robert E. Howard, Wallace’s fate should evoke a certain amount of resonance. Wallace was in his forties (as opposed to REH’s 30.5 years of age) when he did himself in. Still, I’m sure DFW’s fans have been asking themselves that eternal question: “Why”? Wallace seems to have suffered from long-term depression. He even tried electro-convulsive therapy to alleviate his anguish, all to no avail. Anti-depressants were a mainstay of his existence, but Wallace felt that the drugs were creating a wall betwixt himself and the world he wanted to write about. According to D.T. Max of The New Yorker, in his article about DFW, “The Unfinished,” Wallace wanted, “to author things that both restructure worlds and make living people feel stuff,” (DFW’s quote to an editor). Is such a sentiment that far from what REH aspired to? In regards to his poetry and prose, Howard often expressed the view that he wasn’t measuring up to the standards he set for himself. In Wallace, we see a man who, despite all modern pharmacology and the welcoming embrace of post-modern criticism, just couldn’t carry on. Yet, there are those who feel that Robert E. Howard simply did not have sufficient reason to end his life. Fair enough. However, are those same postmortem/post-modern critics (and their ilk) going to hold DWF to the same stringent standards of authorial behavior as they do REH, or does Wallace get a free pass because he wrote about the “real world” (as if Howard didn’t )?

Tom Shippey once stated that the three landmark works of the twentieth century (1984, The Lord of the Flies and The Lord of the Rings) were all works of “fantasy.” Personally, I’d also nominate several works of Robert E. Howard into that category (damn good company, in my opinion). Just as in the works cited by Shippey, the narrative is heightened to illuminate universal questions and truths. Wallace, also, did not shy away from going beyond the fields we know, at least in a temporal sense. His Infinite Jest is set in a post-post-modern future. When all’s said and done, how different is Wallace’s tale from that of Robert W. Chambers’ “The Repairer of Reputations,” wherein Castaigne is an uncrowned “King of the United States of America” and there is always a “Government Lethal Chamber” within easy walking distance? Wallace seems to have shared the depressed, nihilistic world-view engendered by RWC’s fictional play, The King in Yellow.

Shippey noted that “realism” in fiction often doesn’t seem capable of expressing the truths that many of us suspect lie beneath the facade of modern life. A cosmic, Lovecraftian view, in some respects. David Foster Wallace, in his non-fiction work, Everything and More, looked at the cosmic and infinite as well. Did the cosmic vistas that Wallace glimpsed affect his viewpoint? Did the “black seas of infinity” and “mad immensities of Night” darken his outlook? None can say now. All that can be said is that Robert E. Howard, enduring a hard-scrabble existence in central Texas during the Great Depression, had just as much, or just as little reason to live as Wallace did in twenty-first century California.

At a memorial service for Wallace, Jonathan Franzen had this to say: “People who believe that David’s death is the story of a biochemical imbalance don’t need the kinds of stories that David told.”

Replace “David” with “Robert E. Howard” and I think y’all might see why I wrote this blog.

Heating Up Best Served Cold


Last Argument of Kings (2008) turned out to be the best Sword-and-Sorcery novel I’ve read since David Gemmell’s The Swords of Night and Day back in 2004, the culmination of Joe Abercrombie’s tough love redemption of the oh-so-discredited concept of the fantasy trilogy. An interview displaying the relaxed humor that’s only found in a creator deeply serious about his creations is now up at YouTube; don’t be alarmed by the fact that it’s in five parts, as each is of little more than blink-and-you’ll-miss-it duration.

(Continue reading this post)

Green Hell, Golden Civilization?


Were someone to press a Kampfpistole against my head and demand to know which de Camp and Carter Conan novel I deemed the least feloniously FUBAR, I’d have to go with Conan of the Isles, mostly because of two paragraphs on the second-to-last page:

Even farther west, at the very rim of the world, the old thief had confided, lay a vast new continent, Mayapan, the Atlanteans and their Antillian descendants had called it. They raided its coasts for gold, emeralds, and virgin copper, for red-skinned slaves and curious birds with gorgeous plumage; for tiger-like cats whose pelts were marked with black rosettes on tawny gold. Here, too, were barbarian states founded by renegades from Atlantis and Antillia, where the cults of the Great Serpent and of the Saber-toothed Tiger carried on their ferocious rivalry in a welter of human sacrifice and abominable worship.

A new world, he thought; a world of trackless jungles and spacious plains, of towering mountains and hidden lakes, where immense rivers writhed like serpents of molten silver through depths of emerald jungle, where unknown peoples worshiped strange and fearsome gods…

(Continue reading this post)

Derleth Be Not Proud, Part Three: Autochthonic Masses Howling and Wet-Mouthed


Part One: Hypersensitive, Not Hyperborean

Part Two: Cry ‘Havoc!’ and Let Slip the Hounds of Tindalos

In certain surroundings our entire being is made of eyes, every atom dilates to witness the haunting of the universe.

Thomas Ligotti, “Professor Nobody’s Little Lectures on Supernatural Horror”

A good critical overview or survey is courteously coercive in that we feel obligated to impose some sort of order and consistency on our own opinions. Having spent the better part of two weeks thinking about S. T. Joshi’s The Rise and Fall of the Cthulhu Mythos — better because the alternative was redrafting various cover letters yet again to try and suppress their ghostly, single-song soundtrack of “Brother, Can You Spare A Dime?” — I’d like to follow up Part One, which mostly engaged with Joshi’s comments on Robert E. Howard’s Mythos work, and Part Two, a wide-ranging look at Rise and Fall‘s treatment of “everyone else,” with subjective and selective suggestions about Mythos-mining. Those who can, do, and those who can’t blog; I’m about as qualified to offer such suggestions as were the walking loyalty oaths and newly-hatched ideologues who found themselves brattily supervising entire Iraqi ministries or provinces during the heady summer of 2003. But if nothing else, this Part Three has been a pretext for some enjoyable re-reading and re-watching.

(Continue reading this post)

Derleth Be Not Proud, Part Two: Cry ‘Havoc!’ and Let Slip the Hounds of Tindalos

Part One: Hypersensitive, Not Hyperborean

Part Three: Autochthonic Masses Howling and Wet-Mouthed

If you decide to write a Conan pastiche, chances are you are going to wind up having the mighty Cimmerian swear “By Crom!” a few more times than Howard did per story. You will probably increase the quotient of “skull-cleaving” blows, etc. Since the smaller details of the warp and woof of Howard’s style work so well hypnotizing you as you read, you cannot quite identify or explain them, and thus you cannot quite take aim at them to imitate them in your pastiche. To compensate, you lean more heavily on the most obvious stylistic trademarks and hope the reader will think it sounds like the real thing. This is of course the reason, also, for the way many fan Mythos pastiches turn out. As immature writers, their authors cannot account for what it is in Lovecraft’s stories that grabs them so. So they go overboard, with the most blatantly obvious feature, the Mythos names and monsters. The pitiful result only makes it all the more obvious that this was never really the secret at all.
— Robert M. Price, “Xothic Romance” (introduction to The Xothic Legend: The Complete Mythos Fiction of Lin Carter)

Think back to the fall of 1944, weeks before the Third Reich’s last great offensive got rolling in the Ardennes. That’s when Fritz Leiber, writing in the pages of The Acolyte, called for “a detailed study of the growth of [Lovecraft’s] Mythology and the background, and also an appraisal of the extent to which it helped or hampered Lovecraft’s writing.” From that perspective The Rise and Fall of the Cthulhu Mythos has been a long time coming, but earns the admiration of weird fiction enthusiasts by succeeding as an introduction to, and also an interrogation of, both the original Lovecraft Mythos (to adopt the Joshi-endorsed term) and what he memorably terms “that heroic task of literary misconstrual,” the Derleth Mythos.

Way back in The Weird Tale, Joshi complained that “the bulk of recent critical work (not merely in this field but in most others) seems so cheerless, mechanical, and obfuscatory that the reader is likely to be repelled rather than attracted to the subjects of study.” Not so the readers of this book, lucky recipients of a text that is elegantly written (although a reference to the “United States’ secession from England” is a brow-furrower), eloquently argued, and commendably inclusive. In a February 17, 2009 review of Kenneth Hite’s lively Tour De Lovecraft at his blog, John D. Rateliff identifies that book’s drawback as an assumption that readers are “thoroughly conversant with every tale Lovecraft ever wrote; if you can’t instantly recall, say, ‘The Tree’ or ‘He’ in great detail, then you’ll be a bit lost.” That’s not true of Rise and Fall (Rateliff, incidentally, provides a link to his own persuasive case for The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath, but also steps in albino penguin droppings by deeming At the Mountains of Madness “a tedious bore that would have been better at a quarter of its bloated length.” The preference for Dream-Quest is to be expected from a fantasy-esteemer, but “tedious bore”? Is it possible that Farnsworth Wright has pulled a Joseph Curwen on Rateliff?

(Continue reading this post)