Remembering Poul Anderson



Poul Anderson would be eighty-three years old today. That means I’ve been reading his fiction for about thirty years now. The realization of that would be even more twinge-inducing if I didn’t constantly remind myself that I was anderson-vault-schomburga mere thirteen years old when I started.

My love for Poul’s writing began when I bought a first-edition copy (1952) of Vault of the Ages from the Oswego Public Library (the same institution from whence I purchased my first Harold Lamb and Merritt books). Alex Schomburg dustjacket/endpapers and everything. All for one shiny quarter (the library ended up rebuying the book in paperback). The second (or first?) Anderson novel ever published.

“Vault” was a pretty good introduction to Poul Anderson for a thirteen year-old. The book was written for the “Young Adult” market, with a certain proportion of the sermonizing that genre usually requires. On the plus side, Poul based his novel around a post-apocalytic setting, provided numerous great combat/battle scenes and featured “northern barbarians” as sympathetic antagonists whose narrative purpose was to give a stagnant culture a shot in the arm.

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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.

Red Planet, Wet Planet



“I knew it!” Leigh shouted, punching her fist into the air. “I told you sons of… sons what it would be like years ago!”

A rebel yell cut loose, and suddenly the room was a babble of voices.

— Leigh Brackett (in an alternate timeline), as envisioned by S.M. Stirling in his novel, In the Courts of the Crimson Kings.

Looks like Leigh Brackett and Edgar Rice Burroughs were more right than some scientists. Ever since NASA’s Mariner 4 did a drive-by look-see at Mars in 1964, there have been plenty of astronomers and planetologists lining up to “debunk” the idea that the Red Planet was ever anything but an arid rustball since the formation of the solar system.

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Missions Unknown Looks at REH and San Antone



Sanford Allen, over on the Missions Unknown website, wrote up a piece regarding Robert E. Howard and San Antonio. The article is the third in a series called “S.A.’s Place in the SF Universe.” Missions Unknown is a site devoted to the fantasy/sci-fi/horror scene in San Antonio, so any such series as Allen’s could not well afford to ignore the influence San Antone exerted upon REH. Rusty Burke was kind enough to stop by and post some pertinent citations from Howard’s letters in the blog entry’s “Comments” section. I’ve taken the liberty of reproducing those quotations (and Rusty’s introductory paragraph) below…

San Antonio was Robert E. Howard’s favorite city, rivaled only by El Paso (which he did not visit until about 1934). His mother had good friends there, and the Howards were frequent visitors through the years. REH spent a good bit of time in the public library, which apparently had a pretty good genealogical section. His letters contain a number of mentions of SA, including such things as the Fiesta and Battle of the Flowers, the opening of the Spanish Governor’s Palace, and so on. Here are just a few brief quotations from his letters:

“Most of the trade of West Texas – with the exception of that region dominated by Amarillo, high up in the Panhandle – goes to Fort Worth. Personally, though, I like San Antonio, and spend much more time there than at the former city.” (REH to August W. Derleth, 12/29/32)

“Of all these northern [Texas] cities, I like Fort Worth best, though for color and historical glamor none of them can compare to San Antonio and other towns of the south.” (REH to Derleth, 7/3/33)

“You ask about San Antonio. It is without question the most interesting and colorful city in Texas, possibly in the entire Southwest…” (REH to Carl Jacobi, summer 1934)

As for him finding inspiration in stories of old-time Texans, here’s a specifically SA reference:

“San Antonio is full of old timers – old law officers, trail drivers, cattlemen, buffalo hunters and pioneers. No better place for a man to go who wants to get first hand information about the frontier. The lady who owned the rooms I rented, for instance, was an old pioneer woman who had lived on a ranch in the very thick of the ‘wire-cutting war’ of Brown County; and on the street back of her house lived an old gentleman who went up the Chisholm in the ‘80’s, trapped in the Rockies, helped hunt down Sitting Bull, and was a sheriff in the wild days of western Kansas. I wish I had time and money to spend about a year looking up all these old timers in the state and getting their stories. (REH to Derleth, 5/33)

Maliszewski and “The Books That Founded D&D”


James Maliszewski, the proprietor of Grognardia and a Friend of The Cimmerian, has posted an article on The Escapist website. It is called “The Books That Founded D&D” and I found it quite interesting. I thought it worth some commentary.

Mr. Maliszewski starts his essay noting the various reasons why J.R.R. Tolkien should be dismissed as major influence upon the role-playing game that Gygax and Arneson developed. Most of the evidence used to back this up is cited from Gygax’s own writings. The fact that these writings date from before and after the threatened lawsuit by Tolkien Enterprises means very little, in my view.

Tolkien deeply influenced Dungeons and Dragons. That is my humble opinion and I stand by it. The Elves as portrayed in D&D would be far different if JRRT had never written his novel, The Lord of the Rings. The same for D&D dwarves. Double ditto for “orcs,” which species (with that particular appellation) would never exist, but for Tollers. Triple ditto for the “halflings” in the game (whom I always considered ridiculous, in game terms). All of that, however, is fodder for another blog entry. Now, let’s get to all the stuff that James Maliszkewski and I do agree on (more or less)…

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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.

Arcadian Days


I so love having The Collected Poetry of Robert E. Howard in my collection. After years and years of collecting Howard, I can literally open this book at random and find material I’m not familiar with. An example of this is “Arcadian Days”, found on pages 256 through 258. There’s a typo at the start: “Mape-limbed” is, in context, obviously supposed to be “ape-limbed.” The narrator is a blacksmith, who swears by Zeus and Jove, and meets a woman who is Dion’s — Dionysus? -– own (also referred to as an acolyte of Pan, who is Dionysus’s equivalent), “when the world was wild with Youth.” An interesting poem in many ways, and one I’d never seen before.

Picacio Tapped for ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ Calendar







According to Missions Unknown, San Antonio-based artist, John Picacio, has been chosen to illustrate the 2011 calendar devoted to George R.R. Martin’s fantasy series, ‘A Song of Ice and Fire.’ Also mentioned in the article is the fact that Martin has been in the UK since late October, where he is keeping an eye on the filming of the HBO series based upon his epic fantasy novels. Read more about it here.

John Picacio also provided the cover painting for [redacted]’s Howard biography, Blood and Thunder.

Frazetta’s “Conqueror” Sells For a Cool Million


Frazetta's "Berzerker," renamed due to legal disputes with de Camp.

After hanging in the Frazetta Museum in East Stroudsburg for ten years, the painting used for the cover of Conan the Conqueror is now in the hands of a private collector. All it cost the unnamed buyer was a reported one million dollars.

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Andy Serkis: From Gollum to Screwtape












Andy Serkis, the actor whose voice and mannerisms brought to life the character of Gollum in Peter Jackson’s film adaptation of Lord of the Rings, has now taken on another unsavory character sprung from the well of imagination that was the Inklings. This time, Serkis is trying his hand at Screwtape, the epistolary demon from C.S. Lewis’ classic, The Screwtape Letters (which book was dedicated to JRRT).

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