The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: Conan of Venarium

Monday, April 20th, 2015 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Turtledove_Venarium2I’ve got a couple Holmes-related posts in the works, but am not done researching any of them (no, I don’t just make up my posts as I go: I actually put some thought into them; even if  it may not always appear so). Fortunately, I’ve got no shortage of other areas of interest that I can use to fill the gap (I still haven’t figured out how to get a baseball-related post here. Although, if I still had my copy of that Daryl Brock book.  Maybe something on W P Kinsella.).

The esteemed Ryan Harvey used to review Conan pastiches here at Black Gate. I am absolutely a Robert E. Howard and Conan fan. Perhaps you read this recent post? So, looking to indulge my non-mystery interest (I really want to write something on Tolkien’s Nauglamir, but it’s not even outlined yet), I turned to Conan.

Harry Turtledove is best known for his alternate history novels. I’ve read little Turtledove, so I can’t expound on them. However, one that I did read and enjoyed very much was The Guns of the South, which involves time-travelers bringing Robert E. Lee AK-47s, changing the outcome of the American Civil War (it’s better than it sounds). I definitely enjoyed it more than his other alt-Civil War book, How Few Remain.

Back in 2003, Turtledove joined the list of authors putting out Conan pastiches for Tor Books. Fans of Conan know that this line was quite hit and miss. Conan of Venarium was the 49th and last of the Tor originals, coming six years after the previous entry.

You can read Ryan’s review of that one, here. I’ll include a quote that I think sums up his thoughts on Venarium’s predecessor:  ”I am glad to report that Conan and the Death Lord of Thanza is superior to Conan and the Mists of Doom. Unfortunately, that still ranks it as the second worst Conan novel I’ve read.”

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80′s Barbarian Showdown: Conan vs. Beastmaster

Monday, April 6th, 2015 | Posted by Brandon Engel

The BeastmasterNo discussion of early ’80′s film and movie subgenres would be complete without mentioning the sword and sorcery segment of fantasy films that included such gems as Conan the Barbarian and The Beastmaster, both released in 1982.

Coinciding with the continued popularity of such fantasy role-playing games as Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, both the subgenre and these films quickly found a devoted following. As contemporary sword and sorcery fans prepare for the latest book from George R. R. Martin, let’s take a look back at the 80’s swashbucklers which helped to establish modern trends.

But let’s settle something, too — which hulking, loincloth clad swashbuckler reigns supreme — The Beastmaster’s Dar, or Conan?

The Barbarian King of the Sword and Sorcery Subgenre

When considering this subgenre, inevitably Conan the Barbarian is one of the first names to pop up. Conan was a forerunner for many popular titles that came after. He first appeared in pulp stories penned by Robert E. Howard in the 1930′s (which even predated J.R.R. Tolkien’s best-known fantasy fiction).

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Legion from the Shadows by Karl Edward Wagner

Tuesday, March 10th, 2015 | Posted by Fletcher Vredenburgh

oie_9192021nLnODdJxFor those raised in this day of pure unadulterated Robert E. Howard texts, it may interest you to learn that once upon a time a flourishing industry of pastiche publication existed. There were only so many Howard stories to satisfy hordes of swords & sorcery fans, so the powers that were created more. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter, the masterminds as it were, behind the pastiche industry were either greedy exploiters of Howard’s legacy or passionate fans who saw the need for further Howardian adventures. As a fan myself at the time, I was quite happy to buy and read a lot of them. Most weren’t better than alright but they scratched an itch.

De Camp (who fiddled mercilessly with Howard’s own short stories) and Carter wrote some of the weakest pastiches. For all his involvement with Howard’s fiction, de Camp never seemed to understand its nuance and why it worked. By education he was an engineer, and the need for things to be logical and systematic undermines his fiction. Carter, sadly, just didn’t have the talent to mimic the writer whose work he loved so dearly.

Unknown Swedish author, Bjorn Nyberg wrote The Return of Conan (1957). Decades later famous authors such as Poul Anderson and Andrew Offut tried their hands at the game. Howard Andrew Jones wrote a good piece on the pasticheurs a while back. Eventually a critical mass of fans and academics rose up, rightly so, to decry the inferior copies — and really, most were — of Howard’s creations.

There’s one Conan pastiche novel I remember truly liking: The Road of Kings (1979) by Karl Edward Wagner. It was good; equal parts dark and exciting. You can read Charles Rutledge’s review from a few years back here.

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Fantasy Literature: That Conan Thing & The Sword of the Lady, Part 1

Friday, February 27th, 2015 | Posted by Edward Carmien

The Sword of the Lady-smallAs the treasure map says, here there be spoilers. This isn’t exactly a review, and besides this is just Part 1 of my look at The Sword of the Lady, of S. M. Stirling’s Emberverse series. As the novel begins, the CUT are determined to kill Rudi McKenzie no matter the political cost of attacking him and the leader of Iowa, a powerful post-change entity. After the attack fails (naturally), Iowa becomes a Good Guy, Rudi & Co. head off to Wisconsin, Major Graber & Co. regroup with some new allies, and the quest continues.

But enough plot. Let’s talk Robert E. Howard’s Conan. Let’s talk S. M. Stirling’s Rudi McKenzie. Let’s talk the hard-eyed desert of the real making it with the saucy romantic.

In Fantasy Literature: The Scourge of God & “I See You” I referred to Conan/Rudi as a way of highlighting how Stirling manages, in a somewhat realistic way, to portray the ultimate warrior at work. Able to reach down and tap deep bodily resources at will, in a tall, well-muscled frame, with a lifetime of martial training (from the very best instructors), and equipped with the best that can be made, Rudi is indeed like Conan himself, a practically unstoppable killing machine. Yet Stirling keeps it real, or a reasonable facsimile of real, making the danger to Rudi palpable. For example, Odin foretells Rudi shall not live so long as to see his hair go gray with age. Better yet, Rudi will die with a blade in his hand.

Conan himself could wish for no better end. Indeed, as mercenary, thief, pirate, and eventually king, Conan risked far worse during his career. Of course, when it comes to career path, Rudi McKenzie, Artos, Ard Ri of Montival, owes more to Aragorn than to Conan, but for now a comparison of how melee is portrayed serves us better than mere kingly politics.

Let us first enjoy some Conan, dug from the very roots of Sword & Sorcery (for this IS Black Gate, isn’t it?).

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Monolith’s Conan Board Game Raises Over $2 Million on Kickstarter

Sunday, February 8th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Conan Monolith-small

Earlier today the Kickstarter campaign for a new Conan miniatures game from start-up Monolith Board Games surpassed $2 million — more than 25 times the $80,000 goal. Monolith has no track record, but they’ve done a fine job generating excitement. Game components  – including double-sided boards and over 70 plastic miniatures — look excellent, and the art, chiefly by Adrian Smith, is terrific. Here’s the description of the core game:

Conan is a miniature-based board game that pits one player, the overlord, who controls hordes of savage tribesmen, no-good lowlifes and undead minions against 1 to 4 players who incarnate the legendary Conan and his fellow adventurers. The gameplay is asymetric, as the overlord possesses a large selection of models and objectives which are his own, whereas the brave heroes are played from a first person perspective, much like in a role playing game. An adventure can be played out in 1 hour on one of the beautiful game boards as you pit your wits, daring and tactical acumen against your opponent.

Who the heck is Monolith, and why should you be giving them your hard earned money?

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The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: Pratchett’s Cohen the Barbarian

Monday, January 26th, 2015 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Cohen_CohenI am an unabashed fan of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books. Along with a lot of Carl Hiassen’s work, they are the only reads that cause me to laugh out loud. Unseen Academicals was the first Discworld book that I wasn’t really happy with when I finished it; which isn’t too bad considering it was the thirty-third in the series for me.

Though I have a very fundamental difference with Pratchett’s basic worldview, I think he is an absolutely brilliant satirist. Discworld isn’t nearly as well known generally as The Hitchhiker’s Guides to the Galaxy books, but I tell folks that if you like Douglas Adams, you should like Terry Pratchett.

Genghiz Cohen, better known as Cohen the Barbarian, appears in a few novels. He is Discworld’s greatest warrior, though now he is an old man in his late eighties or nineties, and he leads a band of senior citizen barbarians known as the Silver Horde.

Cohen/Conan. The Silver Horde/The Golden Horde. See? Get it? Discworld is full of this stuff.

Cohen is a skinny old man with a long white beard, a patch over one eye and a dirty loincloth. He has a set of dentures made from Troll teeth, which are pretty much the only things he has left from a wild life.

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Vintage Treasures: Echoes of Valor II, edited by Karl Edward Wagner

Sunday, January 18th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Echoes of Valor II-smallKarl Edward Wagner continued his sword-and-sorcery anthology series with Echoes of Valor II, published in hardcover by Tor Books in August 1989, two years after the release of Echoes of Valor.

Wagner settled into an established pattern with this volume. The first one had been unusual for a couple of reasons. For one thing, it contained only novellas — three big stories by Robert E. Howard, Fritz Leiber, and Henry Kuttner. Not that you can go wrong with Howard, Leiber, and Kuttner, but the next two books in the series offered a more varied table of contents.

Echoes of Valor had also been bare bones from an editorial standpoint. Not even an introduction, let alone commentary on the stories. Wagner rectified that with Echoes of Valor II, which included new and reprinted story intros and author retrospectives by C. L. Moore, Sam Moskowitz, Forrest J. Ackerman, and Wagner himself. This seems more what Wagner had in mind for EoV, which he clearly intended to be a definitive S&S anthology series.

In fact, it’s probable that the first volume was put together much more hurriedly than the last two. Not only was it missing the editorial content that would be the hallmark of the series, but it went straight to paperback. Echoes of Valor II appeared first in a handsome hardcover edition, and was reprinted in paperback in February 1991.

This one contains a rich assortment of classic S&S and heroic fantasy, including a Conan tale by Robert E. Howard, a Jirel of Joiry story and two Northwest Smith tales from C. L. Moore, a Venus novella by Leigh Brackett and Ray Bradbury, and a Hok the Mighty novella by Manly Wade Wellman… along with fascinating articles on how some of the stories came together.

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The Barbarism of Bullfighting and Archaic Diction in L. Sprague de Camp’s “The Rug and the Bull”

Tuesday, January 13th, 2015 | Posted by Gabe Dybing

1974 Paperback edition. Cover art by Frank Frazetta.

1974 Paperback edition. Cover art by Frank Frazetta.

One of the many freedoms of Sword and Sorcery, it seems to me, is that it enables the adoption of a world that allows the writer to comment on just about anything on which one would want. One of Robert E. Howard’s purposes in the construction of his own Hyboria was to create a conglomerate of cultures, no matter how anachronistic their juxtapositions, so that his hero Conan might have any kind of adventure that Howard might think up. Whereas for previous tales, Howard perhaps had to construct different heroes for different historical epochs (Bran Mak Morn for the Celtic Picts, Solomon Kane for the sixteenth century, Kull for Atlantis), in the Hyborian Age Conan might be a thief, a soldier, a pirate, and ultimately a king, his adventures all the while providing Howard with powerful commentary on “civilization.”

So, too, writers after Howard have utilized this purpose. Dave Sim, through his creation of Cerebus the Aardvark, begins by commenting on the Sword and Sorcery genre itself (as well as the mainstream comic books of Sim’s time) and then goes on to explore High Society, Church & State, marriage – and this last, in Jaka’s Story, is as far as my reading has taken me, but I understand that Sim is so far reaching in his exploration of topics that in a much later volume he even explores the life and works of Ernest Hemingway through Cerebus taking on the position of Hemingway’s personal secretary!

Terry Pratchett uses the Sword and Sorcery milieu to ingenious satirical effect, cribbing directly (I believe) from Fritz Leiber in order to forecast to his readers, in the very first pages of the very first Discworld novel, just what tone and material his readers may expect. Pratchett’s initial perspective characters, soon abandoned, are Bravd and the Weasel (Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, obviously). I quote the following description in order to give an example of Pratchett’s satirical treatment of Sword and Sorcery and to underscore, specifically, Pratchett’s debt to Leiber. For more humor, one might want to pick up this book and enjoy the way that these characters talk to each other – it’s impressively Leiberesque.

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Four Tricks for Dealing with The Unsightly Scars of Righteous Battle

Friday, January 9th, 2015 | Posted by mariebilodeau

Arnold as Conan-smallIt occurred to me while writing about the benefits of chainmail bikinis that one of the major downfalls is the vast amount of exposed skin. Not for any morality or mortality reasons (although those do make for interesting points), but rather for the sheer amount of maintenance that would require. I’m not even talking about shaving and waxing. (We all agree that Conan *must* wax to pull off that oily muscled look, right?)

And let’s be realistic. Wow, the scars adventurers must have. I mean, I once had a tick removed from my tender tender belly flesh. That’s what you get for running in the woods fully clothed, so I flinch at the thought of running half-naked in the woods. You’d become a tick magnet.

Anyway, a 70-year old mostly blind doctor went at me with a scalpel to remove the tiny leg still stuck in my flesh and, I gotta tell you, that left a scar. Now that was one tiny, super sharp and badly wielded knife. So let’s pause and imagine how many scars inappropriately armored individuals must have.

This is more about the unsightly scars left behind by being thrust at with swords, spears, arrows, knives, mystical weapons, spells, and large pachyderms. Obviously there are ways of dealing with such minor scars, leaving visible only the major nod-to-backstory ones.

In my continued efforts to support sword and sorcery fashion adventurers, here’s an undoubtedly incomplete list of tricks to deal with scarring while wearing almost nothing.

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Vintage Treasures: Echoes of Valor, edited by Karl Edward Wagner

Monday, December 22nd, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Echoes of Valor-smallIn 1987, a decade after he’d edited the three volume definitive editions of the Berkley Conan (The People of the Black Circle, Red Nails, and The Hour of the Dragon), Karl Edward Wagner set out to create a major reprint anthology of heroic fantasy.

He succeeded with flying colors with Echoes of Valor, the first volume of which was published in 1987. This volume is unusual for several reasons. First, it contained only three stories – three complete novellas by Robert E. Howard, Fritz Leiber, and Henry Kuttner, wrapped in a rather terrible cover by Ken Kelly.

Second, it includes the first publication of the original version of Howard’s 100-page Conan story “The Black Stranger.”  Unsold in Howard’s lifetime, it had previously appeared — heavily revised by L. Sprague de Camp — in the February 1953 issue of Fantasy Magazine; it was later re-titled “The Treasure of Tranicos” when it appeared in the Gnome Press Conan editions. ”The Black Stranger” has become the definitive version, and it has re-appeared many times since.

Third, while later volumes in the series included lengthy introductions by Wagner, Sam Moskowitz, and Forrest J. Ackerman, this volume contains only fiction. The other two stories are Leiber’s 1947 Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser novella “Adept’s Gambit,” originally published in his collection Night’s Black Agents, and Kuttner’s “Wet Magic,” the tale of Morgan le Fay in World War II Britain, originally published in the February 1943 issue of Unknown Worlds magazine.

Wagner managed two more Echoes of Valor volumes, in 1989 and 1991, before he died. All three are highly collectible today. Here are the next two:

Echoes of Valor II (1989)
Echoes of Valor III (1991)

Echoes of Valor was published in Feb 1987 by Tor Books. It is 286 pages, priced at $2.95. The cover is by Ken Kelly. It has never been reprinted, and there is no digital edition.


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