Hither Came Conan: James McGlothlin on The Servants of Bit-Yakin

Monday, March 25th, 2019 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Manuel Perez Clemente (Sanjulian)

Manuel Perez Clemente (Sanjulian)

Welcome back to the latest installment of Hither Came Conan, where a leading Robert E. Howard expert examines one of the original Conan stories each week, highlighting what’s best. James McGlothlin drew “The Servants of Bit Yakin” in our Hyborian lottery.

“The Servants of Bit-Yakin” is the best Conan story ever written by Robert E. Howard!

Or at least that’s my assignment (given to me by Bob Byrne) to convince you of such.

Here we go!

If you are familiar with the Conan canon, you will probably think my task quite a challenge. Case in point: The late Fritz Leiber, one of the greatest sword and sorcery writers of all time, and someone who clearly admired Howard’s Conan tales, rated “The Servants of Bit-Yakin” among the worst of the Conan stories ever written calling it “repetitious and childish, a self-vitiating brew of pseudo-science, stage illusions, and the ‘genuine’ supernatural” (“Fantasy Books”, Fantastic, May 1968, p. 143). Oh boy! With such an authoritative voice weighing in on the supposed poor quality of “Bit Yakin”, I have quite the task set before me. But before getting on to my attempt to convince you that this story is the best Conan story ever written by Howard, let’s get a little background on the tale first.

Though originally titled by Robert E. Howard as “The Servants of Bit-Yakin”, it first appeared in Weird Tales, March 1935 as “Jewels of Gwahlur”. The story was later reprinted in King Conan (Gnome Press, 1953), Conan the Warrior (Lancer Books, 1967), as well as various other later collections. Also, Roy Thomas and Dick Giordano famously adapted it for Marvel Comic’s Savage Sword of Conan #25 in 1977 and the story also later appeared in Dark Horse comics in 2005. This story has some legs; so perhaps it’s better than Leiber thought!

It’s hard to quickly summarize “The Servants of Bit-Yakin”. But I will try to be as brief as I can with the following.

We begin the story with Conan heroically climbing a rock face. In typical Howard fashion, it is clearly communicated how impossible this would be for any normal human being to do the same. But for Conan, with his panther-like strength, it seems not much harder than a jog in the park. While climbing though, Conan comes across a small cave with a mummy holding an inscribed parchment. Conan grabs this ancient document and then completes his climb (the parchment comes into play later). At the top Conan finds on the other side of the cliffs the ancient ruins of the city of Alkmeenon.

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Movie of the Week Madness: The Night Stalker

Sunday, March 24th, 2019 | Posted by Thomas Parker

(1) The Night Stalker-small

The ABC Movie of the Week (a beloved American institution on a par with Turtle Wax, disputed Florida elections, and SPAM, and whose history I detailed here) was, during its six season run from 1969 to 1975, a veritable goldmine of cheesy science fiction, mystery, and horror stories… only there were some MOW’s (for you members of the Netflix generation, that’s the acronym for movie of the week) that were a bit better than cheesy, and a rare handful were even better than that — that were, in fact, damned good. At the pinnacle of this admittedly rather small mountain stands The Night Stalker, which chomped its way into millions of unsuspecting living rooms on the evening of January 11th, 1972.

The Night Stalker was produced by Dan Dark Shadows Curtis and scripted by Richard Matheson from an unpublished novel by Jeff Rice. After the show became the highest rated made-for-television movie yet broadcast at that point, the novel found its way into print and it became apparent why it had been unpublished — it’s not very good. (It also bears an uncanny — shall we say, almost supernatural — resemblance to a much better book, Leslie Whitten’s little-known and underappreciated 1965 novel, Progeny of the Adder. Just a coincidence, I’m sure…)

The Night Stalker is the story of a serial killer on the rampage in Las Vegas, except that at the time, the term “serial killer” had yet to be coined by FBI agent and profiler Robert Ressler; he came up with it a full two years later. That’s how long ago 1972 was.

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The Golden Age of Science Fiction: The 1973 Locus Award for Best Publisher: Ballantine Books

Sunday, March 24th, 2019 | Posted by Rich Horton

Ballantine Lary Niven-small

Larry Niven Ballantine Books (and Inconstant Moon from Sphere)

Steven Silver has been doing a series covering the award winners from his age 12 year, and Steven has credited me for (indirectly) suggesting this, when I quoted Peter Graham’s statement “The Golden Age of Science Fiction” is 12, in the “comment section” to the entry on 1973 in Jo Walton’s wonderful book An Informal History of the Hugos. You see, I was 12 in 1972, so the awards for 1973 were the awards for my personal Golden Age. And Steven suggested that much as he is covering awards for 1980, I might cover awards for 1973 here in Black Gate.

The Locus Awards, given by a poll of the readers of Locus Magazine (full disclosure: for which I write a regular column), and lately including an online component open to anyone (with non-subscriber votes counting half), have been given since 1971. One of the inspired categories is for Best Publisher (this category began in 1972.) In 1973, the award for Best Publisher went to Ballantine Books. In fact, Ballantine won every year but two between 1972 and 1987. Every year since then, the award has gone to Tor. (Note: the Ballantine awards were often to Ballantine/Del Rey, and the Tor awards were often to Tor/St. Martin’s.) In fact, only four entities have ever won the Locus Best Publisher award: Ballantine/Del Rey, Tor/St. Martin’s, the Science Fiction Book Club, and Pocket/Timescape. So – I still think the award is a good idea, but perhaps the winner doesn’t tell us much beyond the obvious.

Certainly when I was first buying books – beginning in 1974, I think – it was obvious that Ballantine (and, soon Del Rey) was the leading paperback imprint. (And, of course, at that age I bought only paperback and SFBC editions.) Sure, Ace published some good stuff. And so did DAW, and Signet, and Berkley, etc. But Ballantine was king – they published the most good stuff, and had the better packaging – they were the clear leaders. My main association, at that time, was with Larry Niven’s books – Niven was a favorite of mine, and in the mid-70s Ballantine issued a near-uniform edition of Niven’s works to that date. Ballantine also published, under Lin Carter’s editorship, the groundbreaking Ballantine Adult Fantasy series – paperback reprints of really wonderful early fantasy books. This was made possible from a marketing point of view by the popularity of J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings – and, of course, Ballantine published the first authorized U. S. paperback editions of those books.

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Religion and Magic and Madness in Battlestar Galactica, Season One

Saturday, March 23rd, 2019 | Posted by Derek Kunsken


One of the most fascinating crosses for me is when science fiction and religious faith hang out. Star Wars is deeper for the faith of the Jedi. Worlds like Altered Carbon are starker and more desolate with their utter materialism. One of my favorite mixes of science fiction and religion is Battlestar Galactica, both the original series with its angels, and the 2003 reimagining with its robotic religious zealots.

I hadn’t watched Battlestar Galactica in about half a dozen years, but as I make my way through the project of trying to watch some of the top drama on TV, I wasn’t surprised to find Battlestar Galactica on a New York Times list of top 20 dramas since the Sopranos and I decided to watch it again.

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Eighties Fantasy Classics: Six of Swords and Exiles of the Rynth by Carole Nelson Douglas

Saturday, March 23rd, 2019 | Posted by Tony Den

Six of Swords Corgi-small Exiles of the Rynth-small

Corgi editions of Six of Swords (1985) and Exiles of the Rynth (1986); art by Steve Crisp

I started reading fantasy as a teenager during the second half of the 1980s. A friend recommended Anne McCafferey’s Pern books, readily available at the public library. Another friend whom I had recently started playing D&D with was very much taken with David Eddings’ Belgeriad and advised me to give them a bash. I have since grown out of Eddings, but at the time I thought The Belgariad was the best thing since sliced bread.

I began to mince about the fantasy and science fiction shelves in local bookshops. The main chain store bookseller of the day predominantly stocked British publishers; mainly Corgi, Grafton and Orbit. Corgi was the most accessible, being moderately cheaper than Grafton. They also had a habit of including advertisements in back pages. One came up consistently; Six of Swords by Carole Nelson Douglas. It looked interesting , and I picked it up in a clearance sale and read it sometime in the mid 1990s. I eventually discovered the sequel, Exiles of the Rynth, and a follow on series, the Sword and Circlet trilogy. I thought I would concentrate on the first two here, and post about the others in due course.

I will not go too much into the development of 1980s fantasy. Matthew David Surridge explored how the decade in many ways was a proving ground for the Big Fat Fantasy that followed in his review of Lyndon Hardy’s Master of the Five Magics series, and touched on the topic several times in his book Once Only Imagined: Collected Reviews, Vol II. What I can say is that my fantasy baptism mostly occurred in the 80s, notwithstanding my dabbling with Jane Gaskell. As such I was unencumbered with other expectations. I only got around to Robert E Howard and JRR Tolkien right at the end of the decade.

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The Golden Age of Science Fiction: Elayne Pelz

Saturday, March 23rd, 2019 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Photo by Chaz Boston-Baden

Photo by Chaz Boston-Baden

The E. Everett Evans/Paul Freehafer Award is named after two members of the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society (LASFS) and is presented for service to the club at Loscon.

E. Everett Evans, who also went by the nom de fan Triple E or Tripoli, was the first member of LASFS to make the transition from fan to professional author while he was an active member. Evans was born in 1893. He published his story “Guaranteed” in the January 1948 issue of Startling Stories. His first novel, The Planet Mappers, appeared in 1955. He published more than two dozen stories as well as a collaboration with E.E. “Doc” Smith before Evans’s death in 1958. In addition to the Evans Freehafer Award, the Big Heart Award was established in his honor and named for him from 1959 until 2006, when it was renamed in honor of Forrest J Ackerman.

Paul Freehafer was an active fan within LASFS who helped carry club projects to completion during his short time with the club. Born in 1918 in Idaho, he moved to Los Angeles to attend Cal Tech. Freehafer discovered science fiction when he was 13, fandom the following year, and joined the Science Fiction League in 1934. From 1939-1941, Freehafer published the fanzine Polaris and was noted for avoiding many of the trends and fads that fans of the era often got caught up in, such as Esperanto, simplified spelling, etc. He is often credited with maintaining unity among the club’s various factions and keeping the club together. Knowing he was ill, Freehafer resigned his directorship in 1942 and returned to Idaho. In 1944, when he was 27 years old, Freehafer suffered a fatal heart attack, becoming the first LASFS member to die. Following his death, Ackerman published the tributezine Polaris: Paul Freehafer, Only the Good Die Young. In addition to the Evans/Freehafer Award, for many years, one of the buildings at the LAFS Clubhouse was named Paul Freehafer Hall. Remembered in these ways 75 years after his death, Freehafer embodies the LASFS ideal “Death will not release you.”

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By Crom! Conan: Adventures In An Age Undreamed Of Q&A With Jason Durall

Friday, March 22nd, 2019 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Conan_AdventuresPG[I’ve talked about Modiphius’ RPG, Conan: Adventures in an Age Undreamed Of. Fellow Black Gater Gabe Dybing and I (with some help from Martin Page) were excited to attempt a series of posts, chronicling our online campaign, but, as is often the case, real life got in the way. Here’s the first post, which talks about the game

Even though we didn’t get beyond the first encounter, I’ve remained a fan of the Conan RPG and have read much of the material (I was a Kickstarter backer). Jason Durall, who wrote an excellent entry on “Xuthal of the Dusk” for Hither Came Conan, is the Line Editor for the game (he is also Line Editor for the venerable Runequest). He was kind enough to do a Q&A for Black Gate. Read on!]

Mongoose certainly produced a LOT of content for the two editions of its 3rd Edition Conan RPG line. What impelled Modiphius to bring out a new Conan RPG? And at this particular time?

Modiphius was already partnering with Cabinet Entertainment with Mutant Chronicles 3rd Edition and other properties, and when the opportunity for Conan was discussed, it was an obvious choice. To distinguish this new version, very early we made the decision that it should incorporate only REH context and new material derived from that, and be produced with deep involvement from leading REH scholars from the beginning. As for timing, it seemed right for a definitive Conan game.

(Editor – While I enjoy many of the pastiches, by various authors – some of which I discussed here – I admire their decision to work from Howard’s source material)

And it was a great bonus for the kickstarter that backers got PDFs of ALL the Mongoose Conan line. How did that come about?

Cabinet owns the rights to all part work done with the Conan IP, so they had the rights to the Mongoose catalog. We had many Kickstarters who were fans of that game, and it seemed a nice benefit to provide.

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From Beneath the Review Pile: We Need More New Suns

Friday, March 22nd, 2019 | Posted by Brandon Crilly

New-Suns-Original-Speculative-Fiction-by-People-of-Color-smallerHere’s a not very shocking statement: we still need to focus on diversity in sci-fi and fantasy.

My hope is that many of you will read that and think, Yeah, tell me something I don’t know. But I imagine many of you would also agree with me that it needs to be said, given how many people still openly disagree with the push to see more works published by creators from marginalized groups, whether that marginalization is based on race, age, sexual orientation, etc.

Take an anthology like New Suns: Original Speculation Fiction by People of Color. The title openly proclaims the editor and publisher’s intent: to highlight PoC authors who are doing phenomenal work in SFF, in the same vein as the Disabled People Destroy series. The outpouring of support for these anthologies is awe-inspiring, especially considering the apparent risk, I suppose, in alienating some readers – often those who don’t acknowledge the need for these anthologies, and the smart business sense in producing them.

Some people, apparently, aren’t paying attention to trends in speculative fiction, or maybe not understanding why these trends exist. Collecting and producing works by authors from diverse groups is a response not just to a need, but to a burning desire for these works. The success of Black Panther and Captain Marvel are obvious examples of this, but we see it in prose fiction, comics, video games, and more. Uncanny Magazine raised almost $60,000 for Disabled People Destroy Science Fiction on Kickstarter last year, virtually tripling their funding goal. Why? People are tired of watching or reading stories about the same kinds of characters, in settings based on the same (dare I say it) Eurocentric framework.

Not everyone – there’s still a market for a rehashing of Tolkien or Brooks or Vance, if that’s your thing – but enough people to make this sort of thing viable. And authors like Rebecca Roanhorse, Fran Wilde, Nnedi, Okorafor, Saladin Ahmed, Bogi Takács and more aren’t just generating buzz because of their identities – it’s because they’re amazing creators, producing work that’s well-written AND fresh.

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Goth Chick News: The Resurrection of Penny Dreadful

Thursday, March 21st, 2019 | Posted by Sue Granquist


Three years ago, I primal-screamed at Showtime for not only ending one of my favorite binge series, Penny Dreadful, but for how they ended it. I won’t put any spoilers here in case you haven’t had the pleasure since I still highly recommend it – all the way up until the last episode.

If you have seen it then you know showrunners left the door open just a smidge to allow for the series to possibly pick up where it left off. And now the news is out that Penny Dreadful is indeed coming back, but in an entirely new iteration entitled Penny Dreadful: City of Angels.

First a little background. If you weren’t aware, “penny dreadfuls” were first produced in Britain in the 1830’s and referred to a serial story published in weekly parts, each costing a penny. The content was usually something shocking by Victorian standards, involving characters such as Varney the Vampire and Sweeny Todd and touched on crime or the supernatural. The Showtime series riffed on the same, artfully bringing together a litany of monsters into one storyline. Penny Dreadful showcased Dr. Frankenstein, his creature, his bride, Dorian Gray, vampires, witches and werewolves, to name a few, all set against a backdrop of 1830’s London.

Penny Dreadful: City of Angels is set to begin production “soon,” and creator John Logan describe it as a “spiritual descendant” of the original. As you would guess from the title, the new iteration takes place in Los Angeles and will once again deal with the conflicts between the forces of good and evil – both human and supernatural.

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Future Treasures: The Last by Hanna Jameson

Thursday, March 21st, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

The Last Hanna Jameson-small The Last Hanna Jameson-back-small

If you keep tabs on upcoming titles like I do, you get used to the relentless hype and the breathless blurbs. After a while it takes something really special to get your attention.

The blurbs for Hanna Jameson’s The Last, arriving in hardcover in two weeks, got my attention. Kirkus Reviews says it’s “”Reminiscent of The Shining… an eerie and unsettling tale,” and Luca Vesta (Dead Gone) says it’s “Nuclear apocalypse meets murder mystery… It’s Stephen King meets Agatha Christie. This is *the* book of 2019.” And Publishers Weekly calls it “An engrossing post-apocalyptic psychological thriller… equal parts drama and locked-room murder mystery.” Here’s the description.

Jon thought he had all the time in the world to respond to his wife’s text message: I miss you so much. I feel bad about how we left it. Love you. But as he’s waiting in the lobby of the L’Hotel Sixieme in Switzerland after an academic conference, still mulling over how to respond to his wife, he receives a string of horrifying push notifications. Washington, DC has been hit with a nuclear bomb, then New York, then London, and finally Berlin. That’s all he knows before news outlets and social media goes black—and before the clouds on the horizon turn orange.

Now, two months later, there are twenty survivors holed up at the hotel, a place already tainted by its strange history of suicides and murders. Those who can’t bear to stay commit suicide or wander off into the woods. Jon and the others try to maintain some semblance of civilization. But when the water pressure disappears, and Jon and a crew of survivors investigate the hotel’s water tanks, they are shocked to discover the body of a young girl.

As supplies dwindle and tensions rise, Jon becomes obsessed with investigating the death of the little girl as a way to cling to his own humanity. Yet the real question remains: can he afford to lose his mind in this hotel, or should he take his chances in the outside world?

The Last will be published by Atria Books on April 9, 2019. It is 352 pages, priced at $27 in hardcover and $12.99 for digital editions.

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