The Great Savage Sword Re-Read: Vol. 2

Wednesday, November 25th, 2015 | Posted by John R. Fultz

In the first installment, I explored Volume 1 of the SAVAGE SWORD OF CONAN Dark Horse reprints of the classic Marvel Comics black-and-white magazine.

2577548-savage_sword_of_conan_015_01Volume 2 begins with SAVAGE SWORD OF CONAN #11 from 1976. A terrific issue written by Roy Thomas–who wrote most of the stories in the magazine its first few years–with art from John Buscema and Yong Montano. Buscema/Montano paring is an interesting one, and the results are every bit as lush and detailed as Alfredo Alcala’s inks in Volume One.

It’s too bad Montano only did this one issue of SS because he brought Buscema’s superb pencils to life as well as Alcala, yet with a decidedly different style that was no less immersive. This adaptation of Howard’s “The Abode of the Damned” isn’t your typical tale of the Cimmerian, as Conan is either off-screen or in disguise as “Shirkuh” for half the issue. It’s a brutal excursion into the violent lives of desert tribesmen, as seen through the eyes of the intrepid maiden Mellani. Seeking vengeance for her slain brother leads her right into captivity where Cimmerian-in-disguise is her only hope of surviving. Yong Montano didn’t turn into a regular Buscema inker like Alcala and later DeZuniga and Chan did, but on SS #11 he did a bang-up job creating that Buscema/Alcala level of artistic detail, while offering a fresh texture in his mastery of light and shadow.

In SAVAGE SWORD #12, reigning artistic champions John Buscema and Alfredo Alcala return to help Roy Thomas adapt Howard’s “The Slave Princess” into a Conan tale called “The Haunters of Castle Crimson.” The lush black ink work is the high standard of the magazine’s early years. Alcala’s hyper-detailed panels took Buscema’s masterful pencils to a whole new level of artistic integrity. Following their bravura performances in SS #2, 4, and 7, Buscema/Alcala bring more lighting-in-bottle greatness to these pages–and it’s their high-end work that highlights this entire second volume, beginning with SS#12.

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An Adventurer’s Guide to the Middle Ages: Town Watch? Where?

Tuesday, November 24th, 2015 | Posted by M Harold Page


…an Ankh Morpork-style town watch

The first thing that Conan — or Locke Lamora, or Grey Mouser, or Vimes, or a D&D party  — would notice about a real medieval city would be the almost total absence of an Ankh Morpork-style town watch.

It’s a stock trope: here come a dozen Keystone Cops town watch in their funny armour, to arrest the drunken barbarian or catch the thief. Only it’s not like that in reality, or at least not quite like that in Later Medieval and Early Modern England, France, and Germany.

That’s not a criticism. Fantasy writers must write what they will. Dickensian thief takers are plausible, and raise themes to do with policing and justice. However, if, like me, you write Historical Adventure Fiction , then you need to know how policing worked because integrity, and because somebody else will know and will gleefully correct you in reviews. (It’s funny when your research is better than theirs though — and the one time I ever answered a review.)

It’s actually quite hard to drill down to D&D level details about the medieval past. Scholars are usually more interested in the development of legal systems and local authority than what happens when Conan gets into a brawl. However, there are a few useful sources: This PhD thesis on trial by battle; The Time Traveller’s Guide to Medieval England: A Handbook for Visitors to the Fourteenth Century (link); The Martial Ethic in Early Modern Germany: Civic Duty and the Right of Arms (link); plus various more antiquarian tomes on my research shelf.

And, there are some surprises beneath the crust of sometimes dry text. Let’s kick off with what every aspiring thief and rogue needs to know…

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Magazine Spotlight on Whistling Shade: The HORROR ISSUE!

Monday, November 23rd, 2015 | Posted by Nick Ozment

whistling shadeUnless you frequent coffee shops, book- or record stores in Minneapolis and St. Paul, you probably have never come across the literary journal Whistling Shade, a fine regional publication currently in its fifteenth year. Black Gate readers may want to track down a copy of the Fall-Winter 2015 issue, though, as there is much herein of particular interest. No road trip or airline ticket is necessary: a full PDF replica of this horror-themed issue is available for $1 HERE. All of the issue’s contents are also posted (free) online HERE.

In addition to the horror fiction and poetry, the issue includes two excellent pieces on H.P. Lovecraft and Robert Bloch. Sten Johnson’s eight-page essay “The Lonely World of H.P. Lovecraft” is one of the finest introductions of the enigmatic author I’ve seen. It provides not only a lively biographical sketch but does a swell job of situating Lovecraft’s oeuvre in the canon of twentieth-century literature. In “Once More Around the Bloch: The Man Behind the Fright Mask,” Thomas R. Smith provides a tribute to his mentor Robert Bloch that is entertaining, insightful, and thought provoking.

Before I give you a rundown of the table of contents, please indulge me a moment while I brag a bit as a proud father. This issue marks the first publication for my six-year-old daughter. Her poem “The Ghost that Hides in My House,” which she came up with this past summer and I faithfully copied down, appears on page 2 of Whistling Shade‘s HORROR Issue! In landing her first acceptance at the age of six, she has got me beat by a full decade. The publisher has kindly granted me permission to reprint Irelyn’s poem here (Please check it out just after the “Read More” tag — she’s very excited about it and will be stoked to know lots more people read it online).

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The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: Vincent Starrett’s intro to The Adventures of Solar Pons

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

Pons_StarrettAdventuresI received my DVD of Ian McKellan’s Mr. Holmes in the mail and anxiously popped it into the player, with the expectation that I would be writing about it for this week’s post. I fell asleep during the first try. Hey: I’m 48 years old and by the time my son is asleep and I settle down in front of the television, I’m near my own bedtime. It happens.

It took two further sessions to complete the film. It was such a disappointment that I’m not going to do a review. At least, not for a while. It’s a fair British melodrama, but as to the elements I look for in a Holmes movie, sadly lacking. I’ll note that most of my Holmes friends really liked it, so I’m in the minority. But that’s how I saw it.

Which left me with a hole in the schedule. An overview of Otto Penzler’s Sherlock Holmes Library (a nine-book collection of some classic Holmes writings from yesteryear) is high on my list. But I’ve still got some re-reading to do before that’s a go.

So, glancing over my shelves, my eyes, of course, wandered towards Solar Pons. Noted Sherlockian Vincent Starrett wrote the introduction to the first Pons short story collection, In Re: Sherlock Holmes – The Adventures of Solar Pons. I talked about the Doyle sons’ attempt to stop publication of that book in a prior post.

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Things Your Writing Teacher Never Told You: The Younger Sibling of 1st & Tight Limited 3rd: Simple Limited 3rd & The Case for Choosing A Single-Character POV

Sunday, November 22nd, 2015 | Posted by Tina Jens

Victorian POV

This is Part 5 in the Choosing Your Narrative POV Series.

We’re continuing our examination of eight POV approaches commonly used in Fantasy. (You can find links to the previous installments in this series at the end of this article.) This week we’re looking at another variation of 3rd Person that is more closely related to 1st Person than to the Omniscient 3rds. And, I’ll explain why I think a single POV is most often the best choice for a traditional fantasy narrative.

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Galaxy Science Fiction, January 1953: A Retro-Review

Saturday, November 21st, 2015 | Posted by Matthew Wuertz

Galaxy Science Fiction January 1953-smallGalaxy rolled along into a new calendar year. Elsewhere in the United States, Dwight D. Eisenhower was about to begin his first term in office, succeeding Harry S. Truman. It’s amazing to sit back for a moment and realize how long ago all of this great fiction was published.

“The Defenders” by Philip K. Dick – Humanity has been underground for years while the United States and Russia fight a nuclear war. On the surface, robots called leadys fight for humans, detonating bombs that destroy and irradiate the earth. It’s a harsh life for humans, drudging out their years without sunlight, struggling to survive while producing weapons to win the war. Taylor gets called from his rest period to go with a team to the surface to investigate some inconsistent reports from the leadys. It’s a dangerous assignment, given the amount of destruction and radiation awaiting them, but it’s not one he can refuse.

I didn’t want to give more of a description in fear that I might spoil the story. It has a couple of surprising points – the first of which is somewhat easy to guess. It has a classic, Cold War feel to it, which adds to its charm. Philip K. Dick used the story as a basis for the novel The Penultimate Truth, published in 1964.

“Teething Ring” by James Causey – An alien visits Melinda at her home, though she doesn’t realize he isn’t human. The strange man asks to survey her in exchange for one of his devices. Although she selects something for herself, her toddler son takes interest in a neural distorter and won’t be dissuaded. Melinda offers the man a dollar for it and gives it to her son; after all, it keeps him quiet.

It’s a lighthearted tale, but I didn’t find it that interesting. It does, however, make for a good relief between “The Defenders” and “Life Sentence.”

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Dr. Strange, Part II: Becoming Sorcerer Supreme and Dying in the Englehart Era

Saturday, November 21st, 2015 | Posted by Derek Kunsken

Marvel_Premiere_Vol_1_9In a blog post of some weeks ago, looked at the one of my favorite Dr. Strange periods, when they’d established his overall mythos. The early 1970s was another kick-ass period for Dr. Strange, when the Master of the Mystic Arts became the Sorcerer Supreme.

In 1971, after the end of the series Strange Tales, Marvel’s Master of the Mystic Arts found a home in Marvel Premiere with issue #3. Marvel was just beginning an eerie period that mirrored the monster movie craze of the 1970s.

This period brought into prominence Marvel’s werewolves, zombies, Morbius the Living Vampire, Ghost Rider, Son-of-Satan, Dracula, Satana, Blade, and even ended up turning one of the X-Men into a furry monster. This tone seeped into Dr. Strange too.

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Lost Stone Cities and Desolate Outposts: Exploring Runebound – The Mists of Zanaga

Saturday, November 21st, 2015 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Zanaga_BoxI previously wrote about Runebound (2nd Edition), an RPG-like board game from Fantasy Flight. You might want to give it a quick read to get the basics down. I also did a post on The Sands of Al-Kalim expansion. Next up is a look at another of the big box expansions: The Mists of Zanaga.

Mists is another of the ‘big box’ expansions for Runebound. It comes with a board that you lay over most of the original Runebound board, completely changing the terrain.

Runebound is a traditional Middle-Earth type of fantasy world, while The Sands of Al-Kalim was a desert setting. Mists of Zanaga is the classic jungle environment, with lost stone cities and desolate outposts in the wild.

The idea is that some powerful entity known as Tarakhe sleeps deep beneath Zangara. It is a primal force that corrupts the world and drove the lizardmen to abandon their empire and descend into barbarism.

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Go Big Or Go Home?

Friday, November 20th, 2015 | Posted by Violette Malan

Wolfe Long sunIn my last couple of posts (a while ago now) I was looking at small-scale storytelling, first talking about the cozy mystery, and then about whether the “intimate” form of fantasy novel might be that subgenre’s equivalent. I don’t think there’d be much of a disagreement, however, if I suggest that Fantasy and SF are better known – particularly by the general public – for their larger-scale (dare I say epic?) narratives.

And speaking of epics, aren’t there really two main subgenres of large-scale narratives in Fantasy and SF? The epic, and the military? With the former most closely associated with Fantasy, and the latter with SF.

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World Fantasy 2015: It’s the Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead of Convention Reports

Thursday, November 19th, 2015 | Posted by Sarah Avery

The Saratoga Hilton

The Saratoga Hilton, site of the 2015 World Fantasy Convention

Ask a literary agent how writers should pursue representation, and they almost always say, “Go to any convention, and we’ll all be in the hotel bar.”

In years past, I’ve tried agent/author speed dating at the Nebulas weekend, pitch sessions with agents at writing conferences, commenting on agents’ manuscript-wish-list blog posts — all the in-person variations but the bar, because the bar is not my natural habitat. Then again, in years past, I didn’t have an award in my pocket. Lots of people may be ambivalent about awards, but agents like them. This year I figured I might be out of my element, but I would no longer have that aura of desperation that surrounds unpublished novelists with no specific prospects. I finally had something an agent might want.

So I set my sights on the World Fantasy Convention, a con known for a base of attendees consisting almost entirely of professionals in the field. I love a good panel, I love a good reading, I love a good casual schmooze, but I had a mission. One that was certain to throw me into a wide variety of interactions that would range from the awkward to the absurd, with perhaps a little sweet spot of productivity in the middle.

When John O’Neill asked me to write a con report, I told him I had none of the kinds of impressions people record in them. What I had instead was my misadventures in agent hunting. John was laughing already, and urged me to post it.

If you want to know about the World Fantasy Awards and their banquet, memorable quotes from notable figures, the controversy over the toothless harassment policy, I’m not your girl. Not this time, anyway.

But you can time-travel back to the start of my most recent unfinished agent hunt and watch me indulge my hubris.

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