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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New Treasures: Old Venus, edited by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois

Thursday, March 12th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Old Venus-smallI think my favorite book of the year (so far) is George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois’s new anthology, Old Venus, which imagines Venus just as the pulp writers of old: a steamy, swampy jungle planet with strange creatures lurking amidst the dripping vegetation.

Old Venus is a follow-up to Old Mars, a tribute to “the Golden Age of Science Fiction, an era filled with tales of interplanetary colonization and derring-do.” It includes brand new fiction from Lavie Tidhar, Paul McAuley, Joe Haldeman, Eleanor Arnason, David Brin, Garth Nix, Joe R. Lansdale, Ian McDonald and many others. Russell Letson at Locus Online offers an enthusiastic review, saying:

In the introduction, co-editor Gardner Dozois writes that he and George R.R. Martin were looking for a return to the ‘‘heyday of the Planetary Romance,’’ when ‘‘the solar system swarmed with alien races and civilizations, as crowded and chummy as an Elks picnic…’’ These 16 stories, mostly of novelette length, aspire to resuscitate not only the obsolete, imaginary planetology of Old Venus, but the iconography and tropes that filled the pulp adventure stories once set there: the rain-soaked frontier outback where questionable characters meet in roughneck saloons before setting out to find abandoned temples or lost cities, guided or preyed upon by aquatic or amphibious natives, pursued by hungry local fauna, and perhaps tempted by exotic-erotic possibilities…

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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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The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: New Holmes Story Found! Well….

Monday, February 23rd, 2015 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Found_scheduleLast week, the Sherlockian world was abuzz with news that a new Holmes story had been discovered: One that was written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle himself back in 1903.

A few basics: On March 5, 1927, “The Adventure of Shoscombe Old Place” appeared in Liberty Magazine. There would be no more Holmes tales from Doyle’s pen. Thus, the official Sherlockian Canon came to a close at 60: 56 short stories and 4 novels (novellas, really).

Doyle had previously written two short shorts featuring his erstwhile detective. 1896’ “The Field Bazaar” was written to raise funds for Edinburgh University. While in 1924, Doyle wrote and donated “How Watson Learned the Trick” to the Queen’s Dollhouse project.

Hesketh Pearson, when going through Doyle’s papers for a biography, found the outline of a Holmes tale that may or may not have been written by Sir Arthur. Involving a man on stilts, pastiche authors have written the story to less than stellar results.

Of course, being a devout reader of The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes, you already know about the “lost” found Doyle story that was actually written by Arthur Whitaker.

Add in a couple of plays Doyle wrote and you’ve got the official writings by the original author. Though Walter Elliot claims there’s one more.

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Who Should Be Writing the Cthulhu Mythos Today? Announcing the Winners of Weirder Shadows Over Innsmouth

Monday, February 9th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Weirder Shadows Over Innsmouth-small2Three weeks ago we invited Black Gate readers to win a copy of the new Lovecraft-inspired anthology Weirder Shadows Over Innsmouth, by suggesting who should be writing Lovecraftian horror today.

To make it challenging, all entries had to be a single sentence.

We received a near-record number of entries for this contest, too many to print here. But I’ve selected 20 of the more interesting, and reproduced them below.

Two winners were randomly drawn from a list of all qualified entries, and those two lucky readers will both receive a copy of Stephen Jones’s new horror anthology Weirder Shadows Over Innsmouth, on sale now in trade paperback and digital formats from Titan Books.

First up is Jeffery Helms:

The writer I would most like to see write a Lovecraftian horror story today is Scott Snyder, whose comic work has elements of history, folklore, myths, and horror.

That’s certainly a fascinating choice. Scott Snyder’s work on American Vampire and Batman has garnered a lot of attention, and I’d like to see what he could do in Lovecraft’s back yard, too.

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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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Win a Copy of Weirder Shadows Over Innsmouth, edited by Stephen Jones

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

Shadows Over Innsmouth-small Weird Shadows Over Innsmouth-small Weirder Shadows Over Innsmouth-small

Back in October we gave away free copies of The Madness of Cthulhu, the new horror anthology from Titan Books, to three lucky winners. Contestants submitted short comments on their favorite H.P. Lovecraft story, and we announced the winners alongside all the best entries on Oct 27th, in The Best One-Sentence Reviews of H.P. Lovecraft.

I’m very pleased to report that Titan Books has another horror anthology in the works, and they’ve once again offered us copies to give away. Weirder Shadows Over Innsmouth, edited by Stephen Jones, will be released on January 27. It’s the sequel to two earlier volumes, the World Fantasy Award nominee Shadows Over Innsmouth (1994), and Stoker and World Fantasy nominee Weird Shadows Over Innsmouth (2005). Both were returned to print in matching trade paperback editions by Titan Books in 2013.

Weirder Shadows Over Innsmouth collects fifteen recent tales of Lovecraftian horror, many of them original to this volume, alongside “Innsmouth Clay,” a 1971 tale by H. P. Lovecraft and August Derleth, and a poem by H.P. Lovecraft. Contributors include Caitlín R. Kiernan, Kim Newman, Angela Slatter, Michael Marshall Smith, Brian Lumley, Brian Hodge, Ramsey Campbell, and Adrian Cole.

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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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Doc Savage Meets… The Grinch Who Stole Christmas

Monday, December 29th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Doc Savage Grinch-small

Kez Wilson has been publishing Doc Savage fantasy covers at his website for years, and they get more and more creative as the months go by. His December entry this year (#252) sees Doc Savage face off against a diabolical agent of Christmas evil. Here’s his Doctor Seuss-inspired back cover copy:

Every Who down in Whoville liked Christmas a lot. But the Grinch, who lived just north of Whoville, did not. Then he got a wonderful idea! An awful idea! THE GRINCH GOT A WONDERFUL, AWFUL IDEA! Word of his plan to steal Christmas did leak, and the holiday began to look rather bleak. Then Cindy Lou Who took matters in her own tiny hands and got word to the one man who could foil those evil plans. Now when Grinchy Claus slips down the chimney with intent to burglarize, he’ll be face to face with a new holiday protector with glistening bronze skin and golden eyes.

Wilson’s pastiche covers are based on the brilliant work of James Bama and Bob Larkin, who illustrated the original Doc Savage paperbacks from Bantam. Check out his marvelous Doc Savage Fantasy Cover Gallery to see the Man of Bronze face off against Buffy, Ming the Merciless, Cthulhu, 007, The Thing, the Terminator, Sharknado, the Hardy Boys, Barbarella, Doctor Who, Kirk and Spock, and many others.


The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: Watson’s Christmas Trick

Monday, December 22nd, 2014 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Watson_Chair2I opened the door to our rooms at 221 B Baker Street and entered, careful not to jostle the package I carried. I was immediately engulfed in the warmth of the crackling fire that blazed in our hearth. Sherlock Holmes  was in his favorite chair, looking half asleep. Opening his eyes, he turned his head and greeted me lazily.

“Ah, Watson, you have finished your rounds and holiday shopping and returned too late for Mrs. Hudson’s evening repast. However, I am sure she can be prevailed upon to provide you with some cold meats.”

Here, he stopped, and before I could reply, changed his tack entirely. “But I see that you stopped at your club, where I am sure you supped.”

You can imagine my astonishment, dear reader, to hear this. I had not uttered a word since entering the room, and I saw no way that he could know that I had indeed dined at the club. I was surprised that he hadn’t given the name of the former army colleague who had joined me.

“Holmes, this is outrageous! How could you possibly have deduced that in the few seconds I have been in this room?”

He airily waved a hand of dismissal. “Please, it is obvious.” The look on my face must have shown I was not convinced, so he continued.” Your boots have that dark sheen that is unique to the elderly boot man at your establishment. There are at least three other distinctive marks that tell me as much, but the boots alone were enough to deduce it. It is the merest child’s play. Pray, remove your coat, light your pipe and make yourself comfortable.”

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