Romance and Revisions: The Outlaw of Torn by Edgar Rice Burroughs

Tuesday, April 23rd, 2013 | Posted by Ryan Harvey

Outlaw of Torn 1st ed“Not since Arthur of Silures kept his round table hath ridden forth upon English soil so true a knight as Norman of Torn.” –Joan de Tany

“I am very doubtful about the story. The plot is excellent, but I think you worked it out all together too hurriedly.” –Thomas Newell Metcalf, letter to Edgar Rice Burroughs, 19 December 1911

“I am not prone to be prejudiced in favor of my own stuff, in fact it all sounds like rot to me…” –Edgar Rice Burroughs, letter to Metcalf, 14 March 2012

In Irwin Porges’s groundbreaking and Chartres Cathedral-sized biography, Edgar Rice Burroughs: The Man Who Created Tarzan (Brigham Young University Press, 1975), only two of ERB’s books have solo chapters dedicated to them: Tarzan of the Apes, of course — and The Outlaw of Torn.

Unless you are a hardheaded Burroughs devotee, I’ll wager a ducat you have never crossed paths with the title The Outlaw of Torn. Considering that chronologically it is squashed between his two most famous books, A Princess of Mars and Tarzan of the Apes, it makes sense that The Outlaw of Torn gets overlooked. That it belongs to the genre of Medieval Romance, a mite mustier than high Martian adventure or swinging times in the African rainforest, compounds the issue.

But this Middle Ages adventure deserves the primacy that Porges awarded it. Burroughs’s second novel taught him hard truths about the business of writing and what he was capable of. ERB was one of the first writer-businessmen; the long labor getting his second book to work and sell schooled him in the reality of making a living as an author of popular adventure.

The Outlaw of Torn also turned out, after all the toil put into it, a flat work manufactured too obviously as a copy of earlier romances. Burroughs thought highly of the book, and in 1927 wrote to his publisher: “I think it is the best thing I ever wrote, with the possible exception of Tarzan of the Apes, and next to it, I believe will rank The War Chief of the Apaches.” But instead of embracing further stories in this style, Burroughs turned and ran for the jungle with his next outing. A lesson learned, even if he could not admit it years later.

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Blue Sonja: The Last Red Sonja Post

Tuesday, April 23rd, 2013 | Posted by MichaelPenkas

Unchained 1 BlueI started this series of posts with the intention of only writing one. “In Defense of Red Sonja” was meant to be a stand-alone post about how the character was more than just a female version of Conan the Barbarian, more than just a fan-service redhead in a chain mail bikini, more than a misogynist rape-challenge. I’ve been collecting comics from the “Bronze Age” (approximately 1970 through 1985) for years and Red Sonja wasn’t the only female character to pop up. There was Spider-Woman, She-Hulk, Ms. Marvel … all clearly starting as female versions of established male heroes and all eventually transcending those limits to become their own concepts.

That first post quickly grew in size, reaching over three-thousand words before even going into her appearances in Marvel Feature or her self-titled book. As it covered three distinct themes (how she differed from Conan, where the bikini came from, what the vow meant), I thought it would be better to break it into three separate articles. By the time the third post came out, I’d gotten enough positive reaction that I thought it might be nice to keep exploring how the character grew over the course of her own title. It was at this point that I realized just how much humor got slipped in to various panels of the title, which got me in the habit of highlighting a couple images each week. The novels and film were good ways to show how the character translated into other media, as well as how she was still evolving. And it was all a lot of fun.

So why is this the end? There were two more Marvel Comics series in the early eighties, as well as two Dynamite Entertainment series (Red Sonja and Queen Sonja) currently running. Not to mention a slew of one-shots and mini-series. I’ve got enough material to easily keep this column running at least another three years. And it is tempting to try.

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New Treasures: Iron Kin, by M.J. Scott

Monday, April 22nd, 2013 | Posted by John ONeill

Iron KinWe work in a genre ruled by series. It makes for some tough choices sometimes.

Case in point: I just received a review copy of M.J. Scott’s new novel Iron Kin. It looks like a fun, quick read with an intriguing setting and what could be a genuine POC on the cover:

Imagine a city divided. Fae and human mages on one side, vampire Blood Lords and shape-shifting Beast Kind on the other. Between these supernatural forces stands a peace treaty that threatens to shatter at the slightest provocation….

I was raised to do the right thing. But to my family that means staying safe behind the walls of human society. To be a respectable metalmage and never put myself at risk. But the treaty is faltering. And if it fails, nothing is safe. To help save the city and everyone I care about, I will use whatever means I can to ensure the negotiations to renew the treaty are successful — even if that means forging an alliance with a man who is the very opposite of the right thing….

Fen is trouble. Wild. He would rather bind himself in iron and drink himself into oblivion than learn to master the visions that come to him. Those visions might just hold the key to peace, and it seems that my power might hold the key to his control — if I can keep it around him….

Normally I’d plop down in my big green chair with my dog Pepper at my feet, and give it a try. Except for these tiny words at the bottom: A novel of the Half-Light City.

In the fantasy world, that’s code for: This isn’t the first book, dummy. According to a hasty Amazon search, Iron Kin is actually the third book, following Shadow Kin (2011) and Blood Kin (2012), neither of which I have.

And that brings us to those tough choices I mentioned. Do I set it aside and set out on a quest for the first one? Or do I settle in with Iron Kin, and figure things out as I go?

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Black Gate Online Fiction: “The Cremator’s Tale” by Steven H Silver

Sunday, April 21st, 2013 | Posted by John ONeill

Steven H SilverWhen the explosion appeared high above Pargama’s Tower, Hoggar the Cremator was sent to clean up the mess. But things are rarely what they appear to be — especially when dealing with wizards.

“One of my dim-witted apprentices was working in the secluded laboratory this evening,” Pargama said. “I regret to say he is no longer in this world. I have an important experiment which must be performed when Granhouck reaches its zenith and need Imuhagh’s remains collected by then.”

As Pargama spoke, the two men climbed the tower’s stairs, winding in a tight circle around the inner core of the tower. Eventually the two men stood at the heavy metal door at the uppermost reaches of the tower.

“You should have no problem collecting Imuhagh, but if you do, please ring the bell you’ll find on the table inside. Ōjín will come to give you assistance.” Without waiting for a response, Pargama turned and descended the stairway.

Hoggar found himself within the familiar walls of Pargama’s secluded laboratory. The walls were charred black. The floor was littered with broken furniture and glass. A few pieces of human bone could be seen around the room, but it was obvious that most of Imuhagh’s body had been burnt to ash. Hoggar dropped his bag onto the floor and reached to his belt for the small bag. Removing some more powder, he began the ritual to Lord Reyjnayak.

Steven H Silver has spent a great deal of his non-professional life involved with books. In addition to writing stories and poetry (and getting a few of them published), he’s edited three anthologies for DAW Books and two collections of Lester del Rey’s short fiction for NESFA Press. He launched ISFiC Press and spent eight years as the publisher and editor. Steven also publishes the Hugo-nominated fanzine Argentus.

The complete catalog of Black Gate Online Fiction, including stories by Nina Kiriki Hoffman, Ryan Harvey, Emily Mah, David C. Smith and Joe Bonadonna, Aaron Bradford Starr, C.S.E. Cooney, Vaughn Heppner, E.E. Knight, Howard Andrew Jones, Harry Connolly, and others, is here.

“The Cremator’s Tale” is a complete 5,300-word short story of weird fantasy. It is offered at no cost.

Read the complete story here.


Weird of Oz Rides the Blu-ray, visits Betamax

Sunday, April 21st, 2013 | Posted by Nick Ozment

the-dark-knight-rises-combo-packJust a brief post today, some passing thoughts not about sci-fi, fantasy, or horror in particular, but about the formats in which we receive much of our sci-fi, fantasy, and horror entertainment these days…

One of the odder examples of hybrid entertainment packaging to come along in some time, I think, is the DVD/Blu-ray combo pack. Since all DVDs play on Blu-ray players, the DVD is a little redundant. The only market I can think of for which this combo would be a practical necessity is people who do not yet have a Blu-ray player but plan to upgrade to one in the near future. This way they can watch the movie now and have the Blu-ray in their collection already when they do make the jump. That must be a fairly small demographic, and shrinking by the day as people upgrade out of it.

I suppose there could be a few who have a Blu-ray player in one room and just a DVD player in another, and they want to be able to watch the film in either room? “Serious mysterious,” as Alfred Hedgehog, the latest cartoon character my daughter is obsessed with, would say. Aw well, I’m not going to lose any sleep over it. Here’s how combo-pack mania has played out in our house: the Blu-ray disc gets put up out of reach of prying hands, and the DVDs are left out to get smudged up and scratched all to hell.

Speaking of new technologies, those of you who, like me, are old enough to remember when VCRs debuted in your living room may recall that initially there were two competing technologies: VHS and Betamax. The fate of the latter is well illustrated by the fact that Word flags it as a misspelling and suggests I replace it with “Bateman.” Now, the conventional wisdom is that Betamax was the superior technology and that the only reason VHS won out is thanks to superior marketing. In other words, like sheep, we embraced the inferior product because more money was spent on getting us to do so.

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What Makes a True Hero? Announcing the Winners of the Writing Fantasy Heroes Contest

Saturday, April 20th, 2013 | Posted by John ONeill

Writing Fantasy HeroesThree weeks ago, we asked Black Gate readers to tell us about their ideal hero in one paragraph or less. It could be a fictional character, or a general description of those qualities that make a hero ideal.

In return, we offered to award a copy of the new book, Writing Fantasy Heroes, edited by Jason Waltz and published by Rogue Blades Entertainment, to three lucky winners.

Those three winners will be randomly drawn from the list of all the entrants.

Before we announce the winners, let’s have a look at some of the best entries. As much as we’d like to, we can’t reprint all the entries we received, so we’ll limit it to the 20 we found most insightful, well written, or original. We’ll start with Daran Grissom, who tells us an ideal hero is:

Someone who, when confronted by the possibility of adventure, enters into it reluctantly, but with determination. A man or woman with a unique trait or skill who is delivered, by fate or vocation, to a place where he or she chooses to go above and beyond what is reasonably asked of them. An exceptional person, in exceptional circumstances, doing exceptional things. That is a hero.

A fine summary, and we’ll see plenty of examples in the next 19 entires — including Han Solo, Conan, Kane, The Gray Mouser, and of course John Wayne.

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The Resurrection of Dr. Phibes

Saturday, April 20th, 2013 | Posted by William Patrick Maynard

vulnavias secretLSOH PhibesLongtime readers will be well aware of my love for Dr. Phibes, the cult classic character played by Vincent Price in two campy AIP productions forty years ago. “Phibes is special,” is how my old friend, Chris Winland summarized the property a couple decades ago and his understatement couldn’t be more accurate. Equal parts horror, comedy, thriller, and romance, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Part of what made Phibes special is there were only two films, despite several attempts over the years to get a third film as well as a TV series off the ground. A few years ago, the character’s co-creator, William Goldstein, acquired the literary rights to his property from MGM, who control the AIP catalog. At the time, Goldstein had to contend with unlicensed comic book appearances and an attempt by his former writing partner to revive the series with a new film. Having settled legal matters, Goldstein set about reviving the book series.

Forty years ago, Goldstein not only novelized the screenplay he co-authored for the original film, but he also novelized the sequel he helped develop. The movie tie-in novels are a very different beast from the films. Devoid of the eye-popping art deco sets and costumes, the campy scores and the scene-stealing performances by the likes of Vincent Price, Joseph Cotton, Robert Quarry, and Terry-Thomas; the books read like old-fashioned pulp thrillers with an exceptionally keen eye for historical detail.

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What About Second Breakfast?

Friday, April 19th, 2013 | Posted by Violette Malan

hobbit-book-coverThere are seven official mealtimes in Spain. The important one for our purposes is “segundo desayuno,” or second breakfast. Now, I can’t prove that this is where Tolkien got the idea, but I like to think so.

Last week we were talking about food and drink in Fantasy and SF, and how it can be used to give details of setting and character. Since the LOTR films, the term “second breakfast” is always going to be associated with Hobbits, with their lifestyle, and their attitudes to the world around them. Not that it started with the movie. Think about what we learned about Middle Earth in general, and Hobbits in particular – food, social customs, and etiquette – from the dining scene in The Hobbit.

It’s been suggested that we find more mention of eating and drinking in Fantasy than in SF. I don’t think that’s necessarily so, but it’s true that including food and drink in secondary world fantasy doesn’t require much in the way of technological invention or extrapolation – though it does require a little research. Most secondary fantasy worlds are facsimile versions of the past of our world – medieval era, renaissance, etc. –  whether the  basic setting is western European, Aboriginal, Middle Eastern or Asian. Pre-industrial is a pretty good way to think of it.

Food and drink is just as useful in giving necessary details of setting and character here as it is in any SF story or primary world fantasy. Maybe even more so. Besides, our characters still need something to do while they’re talking to each other, and travelling from place to place.

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Teaching and Fantasy Literature: Writing Fantasy Heroes

Friday, April 19th, 2013 | Posted by Sarah Avery

Writing Fantasy HeroesI’m a few essays into Writing Fantasy Heroes: Powerful Advice from the Pros. The editor of Writing Fantasy Heroes, Jason M. Waltz, was being published in the pages of Black Gate back when Black Gate had literal paper pages and I was just a glimmer in the slushpile. The book has been mentioned on this site a time or three by others, and will certainly come up again, so I wanted to get a look at it for myself. It turns out there’s enough variation among the essays to keep me busy for more than one post, too.

So far, what’s most striking to me is how different the authors’ imagined readers are. The imagined readers all want to write heroic fantasy, of course, but how long have they been writing? How plugged in are they to the traditions and cliches of writing workshops and fiction manuals? How much life experience have these imagined readers gathered? One of the things I’m enjoying about Writing Fantasy Heroes is coming unstuck in time, relative to the writerly life cycle. From the essay I would have needed when I was in my teens, I turn the page to find the essay I need right now, which is followed by the essay I could hand my students next week.

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Secret Identities and the Gothic: That Demmed, Elusive Pimpernel

Thursday, April 18th, 2013 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

The Scarlet PimpernelOne of the strangest and most distinctive elements of a super-hero is a secret identity. It’s so distinctive we don’t even think about how strange it is. Or, more precisely, how strange the heroic identity is. There’ve been disguises and alter-egos throughout fiction, whether Odysseus showing up at his home incognito before killing his wife’s suitors, or the heroines of Shakespearean comedy dressing up as men and taking male names, or Sherlock Holmes ferreting out clues while masquerading as a humble old book-seller or opium addict. But the super-hero identity, in its classic form, is less a person than an idea: a being known by a code-name, who does not pretend to be a specific person, but instead wears a mask or cloak, and who exists only for one reason — usually to defend against some injustice, to right wrongs, or generally to fight crime. The super-hero identity is not a person or a personality; it’s the idea of a person, the dream of an identity. Much has been written about the symbolic presentation of masculinity the dual identity implies, a weak or nerdy exterior hiding a powerful secret persona. It’s interesting, then, that the idea seems to have been created by a woman.

They’re not scholarly sources, but both Wikipedia and Tvtropes suggest that the first true heroic secret identity was the Scarlet Pimpernel, who was the title character of a 1903 stage play and a better-known 1905 novel written by Baroness Emma Magdolna Rozália Mária Jozefa Borbála “Emmuska” Orczy de Orczi, better known as Baroness Orczy. I can’t think of an earlier example myself. The French character Rocambole first appeared in 1857, but (so far as I can tell) only had the one identity. The villainous Fantômas and the heroic Nyctalope first appeared (separately) in 1911. Zorro was introduced in 1919, The Shadow was given a background and real name in 1931, the Lone Ranger debuted in 1933, the Phantom in 1936, the Clock — the first masked hero in comic books — also in 1936, and Superman came along in 1938 — seventy-five years ago tonight, in fact. I suspect (but am not at all sure, if someone would care to put me out of my ignorance) the first woman with a secret identity was Domino Lady in 1936. Orczy, born in 1865, would go on to publish 11 Pimpernel novels before her death in 1947, along with two collections of short stories and several spin-off novels dealing with the hero’s ancestors and descendants. But to say “hero” here is slightly misleading. The Pimpernel is not the hero of the first book, in the sense of being the protagonist.

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