Vintage Treasures: Solomon Kane: The Hills of the Dead, by Robert E. Howard

Monday, October 29th, 2012 | Posted by John ONeill

solomon-kane-the-hills-of-the-deadWith all the recent discussion around these parts about Conan and Robert E. Howard, I figured the best use of my time this week would be to sit back and enjoy some genuine Robert E. Howard.

With output as vast as Howard’s, the biggest challenge was choosing what to read. One of my favorite Howard pieces is “Skulls in the Stars,” a genuinely creepy tale in which Solomon Kane investigates a moonlit moor trail haunted by a vindictive spirit, so I decided on Solomon Kane: The Hills of the Dead. It was the second Kane paperback published by Bantam Books (the first was Solomon Kane: Skulls in the Stars, in December, 1978). The striking cover is part of a fold-out poster by Bob Larkin.

In a world ruled by piracy, stalked by vampires, peopled by cities of the inhuman, he stood tall amid the terrors of the Dark Continent. Kane, a man of savage and unconquerable courage, strode deep into the jungles, forever slashing his diamond-edged rapier as evil guided the creatures of the night toward him. Wicked whispers of death touched him. Haunted horrors of the world beyond life reached for him. But Kane never halted his march, for he would never rest until the final, epic duel between light and dark was waged… and won.

Disappointingly, I discovered the contents are not pure Howard — in fact, two of the five stories within were completed by Ramsey Campbell, who also provides the introduction.

Introduction: The Mystery of Solomon Kane, by Ramsey Campbell
“The Hills of the Dead”
“Hawk of Basti” (completed by Ramsey Campbell)
“The Return of Sir Richard Grenville” (poem)
“Wings in the Night”
“The Footfalls Within”
“The Children of Asshur” (completed by Ramsey Campbell)
“Solomon Kane’s Homecoming” (poem)

Still, these’s lots here to enjoy. I’m especially pleased to see the poetry, and Campbell’s introduction, which as far as I know is unique to this volume.

Solomon Kane: The Hills of the Dead was published in paperback by Bantam Books in March, 1979. It is 141 pages, with a cover price of $1.95.

Black Gate Online Fiction: “A Phoenix in Darkness” by Donald S. Crankshaw, Part II

Sunday, October 28th, 2012 | Posted by John ONeill

donald-crankshaw-smallThis week, we bring you Part II of Donald S. Crankshaw’s epic short novel, as young members of a secretive Order of wizards track a sinister group of Necromancers to their underground lair.

The corridor opened into a wide, circular room, the smooth, polished stone of the walls gleaming from the light that hung from the ceiling on a chain. It was like no lamp that Seth had ever seen; it appeared to be a sphere filled with an steady, harsh white light. Someone moved across the wide floor with a sluggish limp.

It took Seth a moment to realize what he was looking at. The man wore dark pants and a black, short-sleeved shirt, leaving pale skin visible. Unnaturally pale, even for someone who lived in this darkness. Patches of it showed through where clumps of his limp black hair had fallen out. His hands hung slack at his sides, and his feet dragged forward step by lurching step. His whole mode of movement hinted at some terrible deformity hidden just beneath the skin. The mouth was sewn shut, and the wide-open, glassy eyes stared straight ahead.

Seth tightened his grip on his sword. “What the Shol is that? We should kill it.”

“It’s already dead,” said Aulus.

Donald S. Crankshaw has published short stories in Daily Science Fiction, Aoife’s Kiss, and Coach’s Midnight Diner. He lives in Boston. Author photo by Kristin Janz.

You can see the complete catalog of Black Gate Online Fiction, including stories by Aaron Bradford Starr, Sean McLachlan, Harry Connolly, and Jason E. Thummel, here.

“A Phoenix in Darkness” is a complete 50,000-word short novel of dark fantasy offered free of charge. It will be published in three parts. The story began last week with Part One, here.

Read Part Two of “A Phoenix in Darkness” here.

Robots versus Musketeers: The Last Musketeer by Jason

Sunday, October 28th, 2012 | Posted by John ONeill

the-last-musketeer-smallI haven’t read anything by the Norwegian cartoonist Jason before, but I’ve been intrigued for a while. So last week I ordered a copy of Isle of 100,000 Graves from For a while I had The Last Musketeer in my cart as well — I didn’t know anything about it, but the cover looked cool.

Now pay attention, because this is one of the dangers of online shopping that no one talks about. I’ve never wandered by the counter at Barnes & Noble and accidentally purchased something, for example. But apparently, I forgot to take The Last Musketeer out of my cart, ’cause it showed up with the rest of my order. Whoops.

Now, Amazon has a very forgiving return policy. But to take advantage of it, you have to do stuff. Not the least of which is actually return the item in question. That’s a lot harder to do when it has both a Musketeer and a robot on the cover. You try it.

Anyway, now I have a copy of The Last Musketeer. I read it today, and quite enjoyed it.

Athos, one of the original members of Dumas’s The Three Musketeers, is living a wasted existence as a drunk and a bum in modern Paris, when the city is attacked by ‘laser blasts” originating from the planet Mars. In fine pulp fashion, Athos tracks down a pair of ray-gun toting invaders wandering the city, defeats them with his trusty rapier, and forces the surviving Martian to take him to his rocket ship, where they blast off for the alien planet (one of the running gags in the strip is that Athos has no clue what planet he’s on).

It goes without saying that the comic celebrates all the conventions of 1930s-era pulp science fiction, right down to the goofy alien costumes, stubby rockets, and giant cast-iron video screens. There’s no explanation for how an 1840s-era French Musketeer is still alive in modern Paris, and none is needed. This comic has one audience: those who want to see Athos the Musketeer battle robots on the sands of Mars. If that’s not you, don’t put it in your Amazon cart (even by accident).

But if it is you, I think you’ll have a good time. My one criticism is that the dialog seemed oddly wooden; I put the blame for that mostly on Kim Thompson’s translation. Perhaps I’ve just gotten spoiled by the elegant and frequently hilarious translations in modern manga, especially Fairy Tail and the brilliant Fullmetal Alchemist. But it seemed the crisp and subtle artwork demanded crisp and subtle dialog, and that wasn’t always the case.

The Last Musketeer was published by Fantagraphics in January, 2008. It is 48 pages in full color, and priced at $12.95.

Melinda Snodgrass Discusses Android Slavery, Why Vampires Would Be Lawyers, and Dressage Riding: An Audio Interview

Sunday, October 28th, 2012 | Posted by Emily Mah

melinda_home2I’ve had the privilege of knowing Melinda Snodgrass for over ten years now through the writers group, Critical Mass, which is based in our mutual home state of New Mexico.

While home this summer, I sat down with Melinda and Ian Tregillis for high tea before the opening ceremonies of the London Olympics. Okay, so we weren’t in London and we later watched the ceremonies on television, but you won’t necessarily be able to tell that from the recording.

screen-shot-2012-10-28-at-122302-amIn the course of this interview, we discuss Melinda’s long career in fiction, both as a novelist and a screenwriter.

Tune in to hear her explain, in her own words, how she decided to become a writer after an evening with Fred Saberhagen, Roger Zelazny, and others; wrote the historic Star Trek: The Next Generation episode: Measure of a Man on spec; produced her own television pilot; and wrote three series of groundbreaking novels from legal science fiction to socio-political urban fantasy.

This interview is approximately forty-four minutes long, so sit back, relax, and listen to a longtime pioneer explain how it is she always manages to find new trails to blaze.

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New Treasures: Stories, edited by Neil Gaiman and Al Sarrantonio

Saturday, October 27th, 2012 | Posted by John ONeill

stories-neil-gaiman-smallYeah, I know I’m late to the party with this one. Stories, the high-profile original anthology edited by Neil Gaiman and Al Sarrantonio, was released over two years ago — back in June of 2010.

But I have a good excuse. Despite the incredibly awesome cover by Tom Gauld, after my first glace at the table of contents, I dismissed Stories as a mainstream anthology.

I mean, come on. Walter Mosley, Jodi Picolut, Joyce Carol Oates, Joanne Harris, Lawrence Block, Roddy Doyle, and Chuck Palahniuk? You’d have made the same mistake.

Eventually, I picked up enough on the buzz around this book to realize that its claim to being a “groundbreaking anthology that reinvigorates, expands, and redefines the limits of imaginative fiction” wasn’t just hyperbole. Many of the stories, including Neil Gaiman’s “The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains” and Elizabeth Hand’s “The Maiden Flight of McCauley’s Bellerophon,” began showing up on genre best-of-the-year lists.

I finally decided it was time to take another look. It didn’t hurt that by then the hardcover was being offered at a bargain price at for 60% off (still in stock if you act fast).

Stories is by no means a straight-up fantasy anthology. But it includes some terrific fantasy fiction by some of the genre’s biggest names, including Richard Adams, Michael Swanwick, Michael Moorcock, Peter Straub, Gene Wolfe, Tim Powers, Joe Hill, Michael Marshall Smith, and Joe R. Lansdale.

And I think you’ll be surprised by the contributions of the writers I mentioned above — who aren’t known for writing fantasy — as well.

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Discover the Secret History of World War Two in Achtung! Cthulhu

Saturday, October 27th, 2012 | Posted by John ONeill

achtung-cthulhu-smallOn Tuesday, I talked about the latest crop of exciting fantasy games I’ve discovered, with the help of The Paris Fashion Week of Fantasy Games. They included recent supplements for CthulhuTech, the game of Cthulhu versus giant robots, and Incursion, an intriguing mash-up of BattleTech and Squad Leader.

Cthulhu, zombies, Nazi super-science, occult experiments… you’d think these two games alone would keep me completely content for the next decade. And they might have, too, if I hadn’t just discovered Modiphius Entertainment’s Achtung! Cthulhu.

Before you accuse me of having the attention span of a three-year-old, I’d like to point out that Achtung! Cthulhu combines all that stuff in one game.

Did you ever want to see what would happen if Sgt. Rock went toe-toe-toe with the minions of Nyarlathotep in Nazi Germany? If Indiana Jones stumbled on a nest of shuggoths in Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest at Berchtesgaden?

These are rhetorical questions; of course you did.

Achtung! Cthulhu is a tabletop roleplaying campaign that pits elite Allied soldiers against Chthonians, Deep Ones, Dimensional Shamblers, the Dark Young of Shub-Niggurath, and other creatures from H.P. Lovercraft’s Cthulhu mythos. It is fully compatible with Chaosium’s Call of Cthulhu, and versions are in the works for Realms of Cthulhu (for Savage Worlds), Pelgrane Press’s Trail of Cthulhu, and the PDQ Core Rules from Atomic Sock Monkey.

The first series of adventures is called “Zero Point,” and so far two chapters have been published: Three Kings and Heroes of the Sea, both written by Black Gate‘s own Sarah Newton. The overall series is under the direction of Chris Birch.

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Arnold Schwarzenegger Signs on to Return as Conan in The Legend Of Conan

Friday, October 26th, 2012 | Posted by John ONeill

schwarzenegger-conanWell, this is a day I never thought I’d see.

Deadline is reporting that ex-Governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger, has signed on to appear in a fourth Conan film, set for release Summer 2014 from Universal Pictures. It will be produced by Fredrik Malmberg, CEO of Paradox Entertainment (which controls the Conan property), and writer and producer Chris Morgan (The Fast And The Furious, Wanted). Morgan is credited with the screen story and may write the script; Deadline describes this as a “dream project” for the producer.

Schwarzenegger released this comment to the press yesterday:

I always loved the Conan character and I’m honored to be asked to step into the role once again. I can’t wait to work with Universal and the great team of Fredrik Malmberg and Chris Morgan to develop the next step of this truly epic story.

Schwarzenegger appeared in Conan the Barbarian (1982) and the truly terrible Conan the Destroyer (1984). Games of Thrones star Jason Momoa took a turn as Robert E. Howard’s barbarian in last year’s Conan the Barbarian, one of the biggest bombs of the year.

Few details about the new version have been released, but one imagines the 65-year old Schwarzenegger will approach this one a little differently.

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Kickstarter Alert: Guard Up! Youth LARP Program

Friday, October 26th, 2012 | Posted by Andrew Zimmerman Jones

foam-weaponsLast Sunday, I took my two sons to our local park. While my 2-year-old played on the standard playground equipment, my 7-year-old was transfixed by a group of older teens gathered around picnic tables at a nearby grassy area of the park. Armed with a variety of foam-based weapons, these teens were huddled into groups and occasionally broke out in battle.

Being my son, he was no stranger to these foam weapons. He’d made his own at GenCon about three years ago and pretty much every time we go into the local gaming/comic shop, he makes a beeline for them. His latest fixation is on a well-constructed foam mace.

But this group of boys (for they were almost all boys) weren’t just hitting each other. No, they were doing something else. They were talking to each other. They were playing a game. They were telling a story. That, I think, fascinated him as much as the foam weapons.

And that, ultimately, is the bigger point of playing in a live action roleplaying (LARP) game. A recent Kickstarter project highlights this very well. The Massachusetts-based youth LARP program Guard Up! has 4 days left to gather the remaining funds to create a licensing program which will allow people to buy licenses on their story-based educational program. As of this moment, they need about $2,000 more, but also have some good stretch goals if they can beat that funding.

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Blogging Austin Briggs’ Flash Gordon – “Disaster in Space” / “Shipwrecked”

Friday, October 26th, 2012 | Posted by William Patrick Maynard

kgrhqyokjie6sv7rrboucqbgpq60_3527“Disaster in Space” was the fourth installment of Austin Briggs’s daily Flash Gordon comic strip serial for King Features Syndicate. Originally published between December 15, 1941 and January 17, 1942, “Disaster in Space” follows on directly from “War on Earth” and is a very brief storyline depicting the danger-fraught attempt by Flash, Dale, and Zarkov to return to Mongo to acquire more weapons to combat the Red Sword, which has plunged Earth into a Second World War.

Several rockets fail on re-entry into Mongo’s atmosphere, trapping their ship in perpetual orbit around the planet. Flash bravely ventures outside the ship to attempt to repair the damaged rockets, only to discover that no power remains. Despite the glaring omission that this should have been detected by the monitors on the console, there is more real science at work in this strip than has been demonstrated in the series up to this point. The use of the airlock and Flash’s dangerous repair work in space are particularly well done.

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Try Out the Best in Modern Epic Fantasy in John Joseph Adams’ Latest Anthology

Thursday, October 25th, 2012 | Posted by John ONeill

John Joseph Adams EpicThe true value of anthologies, of course, is you get to sample a variety of authors under a single cover. And the true value of great anthologies is that you get to sample a variety of great authors under a single cover.

Epic: Legends of Fantasy looks like a great anthology. It’s a fantasy buffet featuring some of the most acclaimed writers working in the field today, including Patrick Rothfuss, George R. R. Martin, Tad Williams, Michael Moorcock, Mary Robinette Kowal, and N. K. Jemisin, to name just a few. Here’s the complete TOC:

“Homecoming” by Robin Hobb
“The Word of Unbinding” by Ursula K. Le Guin
“The Burning Man” by Tad Williams
“As the Wheel Turns” by Aliette de Bodard
“The Alchemist” by Paolo Bacigalupi
“Sandmagic” by Orson Scott Card
“The Road to Levinshir” by Patrick Rothfuss
“Rysn” by Brandon Sanderson
“While the Gods Laugh” by Michael Moorcock
“Mother of All Russiya” by Melanie Rawn
“Riding the Shore of the River of Death” by Kate Elliott
“The Bound Man” by Mary Robinette Kowal
“The Narcomancer” by N. K. Jemisin
“Strife Lingers in Memory” by Carrie Vaughn
“The Mad Apprentice” by Trudi Canavan
“Otherling” by Juliet Marillier
“The Mystery Knight” by George R. R. Martin

This is a reprint anthology, but don’t let that dissuade you. Adams has done a marvelous job assembling epic fantasy from the last five decades, and tracking down even a fraction of these stories would cost you far more than this anthology. Paolo Bacigalupi’s novella, “The Alchemist,” for example, was previously available only as a limited-edition hardcover from Subterranean Press. “The Road to Levinshir” by Patrick Rothfuss is from Volume 18 of the Writers of the Future anthology, long out of print. Michael Moorcock’s Elric tale, “While the Gods Laugh,” originally published in Science Fantasy #49 (October 1961), is probably the most-reprinted tale of the lot, but trust me — you’ll be glad it’s here.

Epic: Legends of Fantasy was published on October 5th by Tachyon Publications. It is 624 pages in trade paperback for $17.95 ($9.99 for the digital version). Complete details at the Tachyon website.

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